Ikaruga meets Metroidvania- although, calling it a Metroidvania feels incorrect, somehow.
Certainly, there’s an open world to explore, more and more of which opens up as you gain upgrades, necessitating backtacking to earlier areas to progress, etc. But the whole approach feels a little… nebulous?
Shrouded entirely in silhouette except for the red and blue glows of the obstacles, Outland sure is purdy. Unfortunately, this actually tends to work against the core of the gameplay- since all the environments look the same, there are no memorable features and landmarks to think back to once you gain a new upgrade. When exploration is met with a barrier, there’s really nothing to call back on once you can pass that barrier.
Speaking of exploration, that’s rendered inert too- the game persistently tells you exactly where you need to go next. I don’t mean a Zero-Mission-style map indicator which you then have to figure out how to reach- I mean, a flock of birds will literally guide you through the maze to your next destination. In a way, this encourages exploration because then you know you can’t accidentally go the right way, but there’s very little reason to actually bother going off track- there’s no upgrades or collectibles (save for trinkets which have no in-game use) to incentivise looking around.
These blend together to create a very sterile and uninteresting world to inhabit. More than once I only realised I had backtracked to a previously-inaccessible area after checking my map. It’s a shame, as the polarity switching mechanic throws some real neat challenges into the mix. I just kinda wish it was a series of tightly-designed sequential levels instead of being a vast world for no reason.
Fin or Bin:
I regret sounding so negative in this one- it’s by no means a bad game, but I did find myself deliberating over this decision. As previously established, a tie-breaker, in terms of this blog, gets awarded to the Bin. I have too many games to get through to spend time on one I’m not sure I even want to spend time with. But! Like other tie-breakers, it’s going into the special Bin where it gets vacuum-sealed and put on ice, ready to be taken back out once the backlog is cut to size.