By Skip Zepeda / December 13th, 2019
|RELEASE DATE||October 17th, 2019|
|GENRE||Metroidvania/ exploration-based platformer|
|PLATFORMS||Steam, coming to Switch, PS4 and Xbox One in Q1 2020|
OUTBUDDIES is an homage to both Metroidvania’s and Lovecraftian horror in the best way. What begins as an exploration fueled by one man’s pride quickly becomes a challenging and atmospheric underwater thrill ride. OUTBUDDIES is developed by Julian Laufer and published by Headup.
You begin OUTBUDDIES as Nikolay Bernstein, entrepreneur and explorer, having just crashed your ship at sea in search of the power of the Old Gods. You hope to unravel their mystery and harness their existence for fame and fortune. After the crash, you wake with limited resources and must explore your surroundings. You are armed with Buddy, your robot companion. The plan is to survive long enough to make it to the surface. I have a lot of praise for OUTBUDDIES. It wasn’t immediately evident, but the game slowly worked its charm on me and left me wanting to spend just 5 more minutes exploring and uncovering just when I thought I’d had enough. To me that is the mark of a great game, one that you don’t want to stop playing.
Eventually you will encounter the Wozan, a group of ancient miners who have disappeared under shadowy circumstances and need to be rescued. Through collecting them you seek to learn more about the Old Gods and will gather plenty of gear and skills along the way, which will let you travel further and reach all of those oh so satisfying hidden areas and unreachable locations on the map. The Wozan offer helpful tips about the caverns and tunnels as well as advice that helps you explore further.
The game introduces you to its many mechanics at the beginning, teaching you the art of jumping, ledge dropping, dashing, and sneaking, all of which are tools you will need to use expertly to survive and progress. These tutorials are presented via small animated billboards or signs, presumably made by ancient ones having been in these depths before you. My only complaint about the controls and movement mechanics is that the wall jumping was very rough and difficult to perform repeatedly in succession. Something about moving the arrow keys in the direction of the wall I wanted to hug along with the jump key became a chore and my fingers quickly grew tired of having to quick mash them repeatedly.
One of the main mechanics of OUTBUDDIES is using Buddy to scout ahead. Buddy can move around rooms which allows for visual scouting without moving Nikolay around. Buddy can scan for clues in rooms, uncovering walls and hidden paths, which will come in very handy during your exploration. Buddy can also lift objects around the rooms and later in the game he can even control enemies, allowing you to move them around and use them as steppingstones. Buddy is like that friend you wish Samus had instead of all of those various power ups to collect.
Visually, OUTBUDDIES is fantastic. It’s like a ZX Spectrum title on steroids. There is a deep and dark shadowy color palette used here which contrasts very well with the blues, greens, reds, and purples of the bizarre and almost definitely alien underwater landscape. If you’ve played the recent Metroidvania game Xeodrifter then the visuals of OUTBUDDIES will feel a bit familiar. Lots of coral and bubbly terrain litter the ocean floors. Ancient ruins and dilapidated structures add some variety to the Old God domains. This is where most of the boss battles will take place. You will have to use your entire arsenal of moves and equipment to beat these bosses and they provided enough of a challenge to have my dying repeatedly during most of their encounters. OUTBUDDIES has an interesting death mechanic. It drops you back into the room you’ve died in, with the same amount of health and ammo, with all of the re-spawned enemies. While I appreciated this, I found it a bit tedious at times to simply continue where I left off. It was especially sour in a room where I had gotten stuck or spent far too long getting to, only to be overwhelmed by enemies and be essentially stuck in a death loop.
The music is phenomenal, the chiptune tracks are all varied and help immerse the player in the action and suspense. At times I had to remind myself that I was in fact just playing a game because of how haunting and atmospheric the soundtrack was on occasion. Even when your character is sitting still you can hear the sounds of the water and the movement of life around you, which is a fun touch suitable in an underwater game.
The map is the cornerstone on any Metroidvania game and OUTBUDDIES has a rather frustrating one. Its color coded by area, but the problem is that most of the hidden areas are not marked. I had to focus on exploding almost every vertical wall for a hidden passageway and uncoverable items. I would not have been able to explore without it. Having said that, the backtracking takes some getting used to here, a lot of the corridors looked too familiar to me and I had to find myself backtracking constantly.
I spent over ten hours playing OUTBUDDIES and I still could easily have stretched that out to twenty or more with all of the hidden areas and secrets. It is really up to you and how much you like backtracking to determine how much enjoyment you will get out of OUTBUDDIES. I got my money’s worth but I could have used a little more direction. OUTBUDDIES is currently available here on Steam for $17.99. It will be out Q1 2020 on PS4, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One. I think that the price was very reasonable given the amount of exploration in this game. I’m sure if you like Metroidvanias then your dollar will stretch very far with this game.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
Headupheadup gamesJulian LauferOutbuddiesSteam