There’s an easy way to determine whether or not a game is up my alley. Simply apply this straightforward test:
1.) Is it Mega Man?
2.) Is it sort of like Mega Man?
If you can answer “yes” to any of these questions, then your game is for me. The people who provided a free review copy of Out There Somewhere must have known my criteria and custom-tailored a game just for me, because OTS is an absolute perfect match for my second question.
See? “Year: 20XX.” Totally like Mega Man.
You want plot? OTS kicks off with an introductory cutscene of the “Good Guy Spaceman must pursue Bad Guy Spaceman” variety, evocative of the immortal Zero Wing (but with the taking off of fewer ‘zig’s).
Main screen turn on!
You want gameplay? OTS gives you gameplay. Satisfying puzzle-platforming, and it’s just like…GRADIUS!?
OK, so it’s more like Different Space Shooter I Haven’t Reviewed And Therefore Won’t Link To than it is like Gradius. Still, I’ve played a few space shooters. I can handle this, I thought. I handled it all the way to the boss, at which point I handled it right into his destruct-o laser beam. Tragic cutscene of irrevocable failure. I was doomed to spiral out of control and crash into the planet below…
…where the bad guy’s ship landed…
…where the real game would begin. I had been duped! This was supposed to happen! The space shooter portion had been added just for fun!!!
Hey, wait a second. I like fun. This game was awesome.
With my ship in shambles, it was up to me, spaceman Captain Yuri (no relation to Yuri the Space Jumper), to search the caverns, hillsides, and high-tech structures of this strange planet for the components I needed to take off and take down the evil spaceman Grigori. In a race against the clock, I enlisted the help of some brightly colored plant-aliens to…wait, wrong game. I pulled out a gun and shot all the aliens. ‘Cuz that’s how we operate in 20XX.
Better run, better run, faster than my gun.
Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Eventually you pick up a traditional shooty/killy gun, but the main attraction from the get-go is your teleporter gun. Fire a shot, get teleported to wherever the shot lands. Jump as you’re being teleported, and continue to the apex of your jump wherever you end up. The mechanics are very straightforward once you get the hang of them, unless you play like me and work under the assumption that Yuri is repeatedly teleporting back to his spaceship because he has a deep magical bond with it.
Those granular blue bits are tangible confusion. Or teleporation sparkles.
There’s two ways to properly introduce players to a new concept in a game: the first is to beat them over the head with it in a tutorial, and the other is to facilitate guided exploration so that they may beat themselves over the head at their own pace discover it for themselves. OTS does a little of both, offering a few screens to experiment before telling you that it’s time to use the teleporter gun…except you’ve already been using the teleporter gun, and it’s not instantly obvious that the first puzzle can’t simply be solved by precise jumping, and the first few screens are so wide open that it’s sometimes difficult to tell what, specifically, is triggering your teleportation. At least, if you play like I do and run around firing all willy-nilly (a tactic I learned from the Mega Man PC game). I didn’t realize it was as simple as “SHOOT WALL, DIMWIT.”
Pictured: Dimwit, shooting wall.
After one or two puzzles, the mechanics made sense, but the layout of the whole first area made the learning curve start off a smidge bumpier than it might have been—but by no means brutal. In fact, the game as a whole is quite forgiving and accessible for anyone with basic platforming skills and a head flexible enough to be wrapped around the teleportation concept. Infinite lives, frequent checkpoints, and a save-anywhere feature help keep the frustration factor low, and the puzzles exert very little pressure on the player to have an immediate solution. There’s usually enough time to take a breather and visualize your next move before tumbling into the nearest lava pit—something you’ll do frequently without visualizing a strategy and having the reflexes to pull it off.
Actually, I think my strategy was to jump in the lava pit.
Once you’ve mastered conservation of momentum, you’ll have solved the majority of the puzzles in the game, but there’s enough variety in the challenges and locations to keep things interesting. Water, energy beams, shot-reflecting walls, and crumbling blocks are just a few providers of puzzle possibilities, and an optional, rewarding, and cleverly executed item collection quest adds some good replay value as well. Contributing to the diversity of diversions are a number of friendly aliens who, in addition to giving clues and building on the story, are good for a laugh.
This is exactly the kind of explanation I got about everything from the guy running my last Dungeons & Dragons campaign. The guy who sent us off to the town of MacGuffin via the city of Place.
I’ve played a whole bunch of Flash games that are similar in look and feel to OTS, but the subtle humor, overall polish, and general lack of anything significant to complain about help to set this game apart. The controls are responsive, the challenges are thoughtfully designed, the music is catchy, the scrolling backgrounds are neat, a few of the sound effects are particularly cool, one of the top-secret hidden rooms is exceedingly hysterical—really, Out There Somewhere is a finely crafted puzzle-platformer (moonlighting occasionally as a space shooter) that just wants you to have fun.
Could I gripe about it? A little, sure. I like the visuals well enough, but I feel like some of the level objects don’t always blend together in a harmonious visual theme, and the relatively tiny graphics—even when playing in fullscreen mode—deny the characters (and, to a lesser extent, the locations) as much detail as they deserve.
Magnification: 20XX. I mean, uh, 2X.
Of course, I’m in no position to critique the visuals, because I’m not getting their full effect. The irony here is that my computer can make No One Lives Forever run like a Kenyan Olympian and Portal 2 chug like a soda addict, but Out There Somewhere outright crashed on my first attempt to load the main menu screen. Being that this was a review copy I was playing, I got in contact with the programmer to see whether I’d actually be able to review the game at all. After a few days of crash reporting, I was sent an updated version of the game with a brand-new compatibility mode for graphics cards too old to handle anything fancy, like graphics.
This is probably what the game really looks like.
For my total inability to meet the game’s minimum system requirements, I was bestowed the highest honor a reviewer and accidental bug tester could hope for: special thanks in the game’s credits.
Special thanks to Nathaniel Hoover for also lodging himself in a wall and telling us about it.
So, that’s incredibly cool. But it’s not why I’m recommending this game. I’m recommending Out There Somewhere for the same reason I recommended Tobe’s Vertical Adventure: it’s just plain fun. I got this game for free, and I still plan to pay $7.49 for the deluxe edition that includes the game I already have, the soundtrack I could probably find a way to rip myself, and a hint manual I no longer need. If that’s not an endorsement, then…well, then, I’m just a fool with money.
You can (and should!) buy, try, or feast your eyes on Out There Somewhere at the game’s official webpage.