For years I’ve longed for the modern revival of some of the old school style games I played in the past. I love the gameplay of those old games and wondered what it it would look and play like on modern machines. There have been a few new IP’s that harken back to the styles of yore, but nothing in quite large quantities. Luckily with the arrival of the current HD console line-up there came Xbox Marketplace(PSN for PS3 users) where you could download games being made by smaller, lesser known developers. Since the cost to develop these games was rather inexpensive, publishers were happy to take more chances on some new ideas and let developers make homages to the old school style of gameplay. Now we have a plethora of games that revive the cool gaming styles of old and also games that experiment and push to try radically different things in gaming. Some games are able to do both. Outland, developed by Finnish studio Housemarque and published by Ubisoft, does both.

While the ideas of Outland aren’t completely original, it’s how they are put together and executed is what makes this game innovate and stand out from the crowd. Basically it’s Metroidvania style sidescroller mixed with the character design of Tron mixed drawing of a layer crazy Photoshop artist mixed up with Ikaruga. The final ingredient is where Outland borrows a lot of inspiration from as it takes its main gameplay mechanic from it. For those not familiar with Ikaruga, it is a top down bullet hell shoot ’em up where your ship can switch two different polarities(black and white). When you are white you can absorb white enemy fire and do more damage to black enemies, but anything black destroys you and visa-versa for when you are in the black polarity. It was a clever trick to use in genre and made for one of the most hectic and impossible games ever made(check out this video for a look at the gaming masochism of Ikaruga).

The way the polarity system of Ikaruga works its way into Outland is that your little Tron inspired character gains the ability to switch between blue and red polarities. When you are blue you can damage red enemies and you are shielded from blue bullets(but not from physical enemy attacks) and the inverse for when you switch to red. So as you are exploring the world of Outland you will be finding yourself constantly and often frantically switching polarities.

Along with the polarity switching ability you have the standard run and jump ability and the ability to attack with your sword. As you progress in the game you unlock the ability to slide, which can get you under areas which were impassable previously as well as damage enemies, you gain a devastating laser beam shot to clear out enemies at a distance, a dash ability to destroy certain wall, a ground stomp for attacking, an area attack that sucks up bullets and unleashes their energy back at the attacker, a launch jump ability to use at certain launch points to reach unreachable areas, and a heavy swing ability to crush you opponents with a single blade stroke.

If you have played games such as Super Metroid or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night you will feel right at home with how the game plays out. You start with minimal abilities and as you traverse the land you discover an ability that allows you to pass into the next area. The art style of the game is gorgeous embracing a full color palette and has this electric Mayan art style to that really gives the aesthetic a original look. The music is minimal with eerie synthesizer music complimenting the atmospheres and the sound effects are well done, but nothing exceptional.

While the exploration, running and jumping, killing enemies with your sword, and traversing hazard laden passages is a ton of fun, it’s the boss fights that steal the show in the game. They are huge and with the exception of the first one, they are very dangerous and will have your concentration skills maxed out as you avoid oncoming fire and attacks while frantically switching polarities and trying to figure out a way to land a hit on the boss. While they are not impossible, don’t expect to defeat them on your first few attempts. The final boss battle will definitely be a test of you gaming skills.

While Outland has many things that it does right, there are also a handful of nitpicks that irked me while playing. At times the camera zooms out and gives you a wide view of the course you are to cross, while crossing the zoom can be a bit much and it becomes difficult to keep track of your character. Also sometimes the color of the background can be red or blue making it difficult at times to see your character or even worse a hazard or enemy that lies ahead. And given the frantic nature of the game at times, you will be rapidly changing polarities, when you a switch a little quick cloud of color surrounds your character and when you are quickly changing back and forth it gets confusing on which color your on without a visual representation. Final nitpick is there is a story to the game, but it isn’t very well presented nor interesting. It just plays out through text and voice over at the beginning of the game and after boss fights, but it really doesn’t matter because the gameplay of the game is enough to suck you into its world.

Along with the story campaign which lasts about 6-8 hours is an arcade mode where you can go through levels of the game for a high score and top time and it also has a few co-op challenges, which I haven’t played so I really can’t tell you much about them. In the story campaign you can hunt for hidden masks to unlock artwork and also power up your abilities as well as search for health and magic extenders to make your playthrough a bit easier and add to the length of the game.

In the end I recommend Outland if you’re looking for a challenging game that isn’t overly difficult and fun to play. It’s a great throwback to the golden age of gaming and gives the classic style a new coat of paint and using some of the classic gameplay techniques it creates an innovative way of playing a side scrolling platformer. It’s available now on Xbox Live Marketplace and on PSN, Check it out. Peace Love and Video Games.