Outbuddies DX draws from some very special places in its design. From its Metroid style to its Lovecraftian world, there is a lot it compares to. And while not perfect in its execution, it does a solid job at grabbing these ideas and adapting them in new ways.
Set deep in the South Atlantic Ocean is Bahlam, an old sunken fortress where your character wakes up. Before this, you are greeted to the chilling sights of tentacled monsters and 16-bit inspired graphics via the opening sequence. The sequence is a set of pictures with text below them, cut off by a black border around the screen much like that of Ninja Gaiden on the NES (and strangely, not Metroid). The story it displays is rather fitting of that era but doesn’t attempt much more. Bahlam was a fortress operated by old gods and one mad man wants to rediscover them for his own, more than likely nefarious, purposes.
The most noticeable thing about Outbuddies is its art style. It blends to make a nice mix of stylised 16-bit graphics and smooth animations. There’s a downright pretty nice feel to the exasperation of characters and the way attacks and movement works. However, the entire animation style is not quite as consistent. For instance, whilst running looks good, going at too high a speed makes the entire animation look off. And then there are plenty of little movements when falling or climbing, yet jumping doesn’t have much of an animation. This might not be as noticeable in simpler animation styles but the rest of the art makes the jump seem rather dull. Although it’s a bit of a repetitive similarity, Outbuddies’ inspiration from Metroid’s art style is undeniable. They both have a dark blue, alien earth feel to the surroundings that drastically change as you reach new areas, opting for new colour palettes and enemy types.
This style is brought together very well with its music. In its opening cinematic, it opts for a killer cyberpunk style instrumentation with heavy dark synths slowly building up, but the opening gameplay contrasts this with a subtle sombre piece reminiscent of Mass Effect. While these tracks, and subsequent ones, are pretty solid, they get repetitive as the soundtrack is rather limited. You will hope to like every song as most of them will be heard for half an hour or more until you get to the next area.
This sense of repetition is something that is only accentuated further with Outbuddies’ level design. Whilst games of this calibre favour backtracking and finding new exits, the somewhat samey design of the stages make it feel more labyrinthian than its map might suggest. You will often go through the same room, not to check it but just because you forgot you’ve been there already. This combined with the repeated songs often makes the exploration feel far more dull than intended.
In these times, the only thing that will keep you entertained is the gameplay, and thankfully there are plenty of little tricks found here, such as new weapons and timed boosts. These feel like they would make great additions to a speedrunner’s arsenal, annunciating the skill ceiling they maintain. Learning when to hold your shots and when it is best to run away is a skill that becomes satisfying to learn. Unfortunately, there are some issues in this regard too, and the gameplay feels rather clunky in a way I’d only compare to Flashback from 1992. Oftentimes, your character animation gets in the way of tight controlling and your hitbox isn’t always very clear, with you managing to get hit from below or further away than the time before. Flashback is something that traditionally got away with this due to its narrative focus, yet Outbuddies is not so fortunate. It favours a run and gun style which, along with bullet-hells, is one of the genres that needs the tightest of controls.
And this is not helped by the AI design. In one such case, four lumbering monsters were positioned on top of crucial ladders and wouldn’t move. They waited till I got to the top and knocked me straight back down again – a frustrating bit of design that led to a few too many deaths. Not all is bad with Outbuddies’ gameplay if you don’t mind too much about taking a little more damage than you should. It’s an otherwise solid experience and the allowance to control your AI companion in co-op mode is great, adding another layer of fun to the slightly more boring areas.
If there is one thing Metroid-like games do well, it’s the sense of achievement you earn. Outbuddies DX on Xbox One is no exception. There is a definite difficulty to its design that is accentuated with its boss fights. From the easier mini-bosses such as Blackthorn up to the harder and longer Nocturne fight, this is something crucial to how you will see Outbuddies. In a broader sense, this is true of the whole game. Parts of it can be ugly and the design can be a little clunky and occasionally repetitive, but it’s worth it in the end. The atmosphere and story are solid for what they are and the sense of achievement you feel is unrivalled. Outbuddies DX is not without its issues but they are, ultimately, rather easy to look past.