Coming from developers Hidden Achievement is a new entry into the somewhat crowded “Metroidvania” genre. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, these games pay homage to the old-skool Metroid/Castlevania style of games, where you have to make progress through the game, find a new power or ability, which will then open up new paths, more abilities, and so on and so forth. Now, the one thing I don’t think I’ve ever played on an Xbox is an honest to goodness Metroid clone, so I was pretty pumped to take in Outpost Delta, as it looks like someone has run a Metroid game through a photocopier, scribbled the main character out, and replaced her with a robot. So, was this a fair snap judgment, or have I had my mind changed? Come with me to a deserted space station…
The story is fed to you in dribs and drabs, but here is what I have pieced together. We are Delta, a robot who is the last line of defence for a space station known only as the Outpost. We are awakened by Joule, the station AI, who knows that something is going wrong, but isn’t really able to tell us what or why. As we progress through the game and find computer terminals, the story becomes a little clearer. The Klaath, for this is who the invading nasties are, have appeared and are busy trying to do something or other. Joule manages to find three main baddies, one in the Armory, one in the AI core and one who is hidden away. With our path clear, we need to set off to kick many types of monster ass on our way to these three significant Klaath. For ease, let’s call them “bosses”!
Graphically, Outpost Delta looks great. It has a really cool, pixel art kind of style, and while the sprites are fairly small they have a surfeit of personality and you soon start to care whether Delta falls into a laser pit or gets zapped by the baddies. The sound is all perfectly pleasant too, with the jelly-like blob monsters slurping and slapping about the place, and the sound of Delta’s gun being pretty much on point. The music is nice as well, and sets off the exploring vibe perfectly. There should also be praise thrown at the design of the enemies; the bosses are traditional screen-filling affairs, whilst the little enemies are as annoying as you’d hope.
Now, as you’d expect it isn’t going to be quite as simple as Delta just walking up to these critters and handing them an eviction notice. No, they are dug in like Trump in the White House, and will certainly need about as much persuasion in order to get them to leave. Luckily, Delta is armed with a gun, which can be upgraded to allow him to shoot through damaged sections of the space station, for instance, clearing new roots through the innards of the Outpost. It can fire grenades as well if you find them (either in breakable boxes or dropped by enemies), so in all it comes in pretty handy. Delta also has the ability to mess with the gravity on the station, making it either light so he can propel himself around with a jetpack (it has limited fuel, but will refill itself if you don’t use it), or you can make the gravity even heavier, making foes unable to move. This ability is locked in the first section of the game, but as you progress it works its way in.
Combat is a bit of a mixed bag, if I’m being honest. It is dealt with in a twin-stick style, with the ability to run left and shoot right, which certainly comes in handy. However, what Delta is missing is a dodge or a block move, as if you meet more than one of the heavily armoured robot-type enemies, you’re pretty much toast – there’s only so much jumping and ducking you can do before you get rinsed, sadly. However, if you manage to get a box between you and the enemies, when they run right up to the box they can no longer shoot, so you can stand there and blast them to pieces. You are also afflicted with the “No shoot if stand too close” problem however, so bear that in mind. And don’t even get me started on the speedy electric flying balls of death!
The issue with the shooting – the big issue – is that the right stick aiming is very imprecise, and doubly so if you are trying to avoid being shot. Trying to hit a whizzy small ball is very difficult, and even the bigger, slower enemies seem to need a good rub of the rabbit’s foot to hit them first time. Traversal of the platforms is another issue, especially when you find transitioning from a vertical surface to a horizontal one with the magnetic boots being a lot trickier than you might think. While the range of the boots can be a good thing, going up in a lift with them on can lead to some amusing sights, as the boots stick to the wall and the lift then passes straight through Delta, leaving him stuck.
There’s a lot to like about Outpost Delta on Xbox One; despite the rough edges, I’ve had a blast playing through. The exploration keeps you guessing, with various keys needed to progress and upgrades that are required to advance. As a Metroidvania, it is firmly on the Metroid end of the scale (as an aside, my son, who has played all the Metroid games, thought it actually was a Metroid game when he saw the save capsule thing) but as a target to aspire to Metroid isn’t a bad one. It is a little glitchy, there’s no getting away from it, but it’s challenging and, above all, fun to play.