Outbuddies DX

Switch, PC, Xbox

I sometimes think I’ll never finish Outbuddies, despite loving it so very much. Not because I can’t – because God bless this Metroid-me-do, it has boss fights I can win! – but because I fear I won’t live long enough to do so. It’s a big game is what I’m saying. I’m fine, healthy, I’m sorry if I worried you.

I’ve had enough of the term “Metroidvania”, and have decided that Metroid and Castlevania are different enough from one another for us to stop conflating the two. (No don’t look at the tags.) And if there’s one game where there’s no ambiguity at all, it’s Outbuddies. This is out-and-out a Metroid clone, in the best possible ways. And those best possible ways are: with innovation.

Mimicking Metroid isn’t easy. The finesse with which those games are made is easy to miss until you play those that attempt to copy it, and realise what they’re missing. Outbuddies does that too – it reveals the strengths it lacks – but does it while having fresh ideas of its own that I’d honestly love to see copied back into the next 2D Metroid (as if there will ever be another original one… sniff).

The most immediately noticeable of these is your character’s little flying robot buddy. He can be directly controlled, and has all sorts of special abilities, such as scanning for secrets, zapping hackable enemies to change form (quite how organic creatures can be hacked and turned into floating platforms I’m not sure it excplains), and most of all, exploring ahead of his human chum to see what’s what. (There’s also a local co-op mode where someone else can take control of the robot, but I’m not convinced it would be the most fun for them.)

Together you’re doing something something do with some Ancient Ones, and rescuing another sentient species from a something something world, and honestly, look, I never really pay attention in these games. I like the jumping and the shooting and the exploring.

And what a tremendous amount of fun it is to do so, in this absolutely ha-uge game, made all the more utterly extraordinary when it’s made by a lone developer. Actually, I just learned it’s a bigger deal than even that: a lone developer, Julian Laufer, who is in fact a full-time actual doctor, made this in his spare time.

So while it’s pretty unavoidable when reviewing something like this to not go through listing how it falls short of a proper Metroid game, let’s remember as I do that we’re not full-time doctors making an entire, rather brilliant Metroid-like when we’re not on shift.

But goodness gracious, the map is awful. It’s such a mess. Sometimes it shows you where your progress stopped because of a yellow door you don’t have the weapon for yet, sometimes it just doesn’t. Sometimes it marks unexplored exits from rooms where there absolutely aren’t any. And more often than not, it’s just wildly ambiguous.

This would matter slightly less if traversing the game were easier, but unfortunately it’s really lacking in quick travel. There are teleporters, but you have to fix them before they’ll work, and that requires a tool not discovered until a long way in. And there are far too few of them. This is hampered further by the longer routes often being impassable in the reverse direction, before you’ve gained other upgrades. Which means early on, far too much of the game is spent helplessly traipsing around, trying to find how to get to the next area you may or may not have fully explored.

So it’s testament to how good a game this is that it remains tremendous despite all that. Although it does have one other rather significant flaw that is more likely to put people off: it doesn’t start very well. The game is intentionally open, with multiple directions to explore, and that’s great once you’ve gotten going. But it forgets to be a tighter, more defined experience at the start, and as such feels enormously daunting. Finding out how to proceed beyond this is too difficult. But be assured, once you’ve find the village, you’re good. And if I can get past it, any other idiot can.

After that, aside from my frustrations with the map, and my desperation that it would have better quick-travel routes, it’s just so very engrossing. I played the PC version for so many hours, and now I’ve spent at least twenty more with the very recent Switch build. And I’m not sure I’m even half way.

If you’re a fan of 2D Metroid games, this is such a must. It’s gone cruelly under the radar for reasons I really don’t understand – I really had assumed the massive Metroid community would champion it. And it feels perfectly at home on the Switch, significantly adapted to adjust for big screens or portable modes. This “DX” version also adds a triple jump, and various other tweaks and improvements.

Oh do just get this. It’s amazing. It totally deserves its price tag, although I’m convinced it’d shift a lot more copies if it were £10. That one person managed to make a properly good Metroid clone in their spare time is extraordinary, and let’s all finally give it some attention.

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