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Outland preview: When shmups grow legs

Justin McElroy

If you need proof that the upswing of independent game development is having an impact on more mainstream devs, look no further than Outland, the upcoming XBLA and PSN release just revealed by Ubisoft during PAX 2010.

Just tell me this doesn't seem like one of those way-out-there ideas, the product of one-man coding in his spare time: It's a beautifully rendered animated platformer that draws aesthetic inspiration from classics like Out of this World ... oh, and it's sort of based on Ikaruga.

Crazy, yes, but also very real and, as I can attest after one of the levels and a boss battle, very beautiful.

Gallery: Outland (first screens) | 5 Photos

Your character has been led into a mysterious, deadly jungle by an unusual series of visions and ... well, developer Housemarque (Super Stardust HD) isn't saying much beyond that. All we know is that your character (represented only by silhouette on screen) is collecting powers of different colors that manifest (at least in the bit I saw) as an energy blade. Your ability to damage certain enemies is entirely dependent on if they are a different color than the power you're currently using. Starting to see the Ikaruga connection?

Though it's different from that shmup classic in the most substantial way (it's not a shmup), the two do bear other similarities. For one, there are sections that Housemarque describes as "bullet hells," bits where the screen is positively littered with cannons blasting a rainbow of different projectiles that our hero has to wildly switch between colors to avoid. It didn't look like anything I'd seen before, but it absolutely looked like a blast.

The boss at the end of my demo revealed yet another influence, as the mammoth statue monster looked like he could have been pulled straight from Shadow of the Colossus. Or at least it would have seemed that way had he not been two-dimensional and bathed in Outland's unique color-on-silhouette aesthetic.

Again, this was pre-alpha, so I wasn't getting a great sense of how Outland's mechanics would all interlock in the finished product. But when you see such a big, creative idea being executed so well this early, it's hard not to walk away optimistic.

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