If video games were food, Metroidvanias would be that giant container of jellybeans you find in candy stores. There's so many of them that it seems like a new dozen come out every week. As a result, you really have to do something unique or innovative to stand out from the rest of the very overpopulated crowd. Otherwise, your Metroidvania will sink to the bottom, never to be heard from again.
Outbuddies is a pretty competent entry in the genre, but for the most part, there's not a lot that differentiates it from other Metroidvanias, and in fact, it's trying a little too hard to simply be Metroid.
The Call Of Cute-thulu
Outbuddies is about a mustachioed, bespectacled explorer by the name of Nikolay Berstein, who seems to have discovered something about an Old God who may or may not have created mankind and the Earth. He then winds up several leagues under the sea, in an old city filled with monsters. He also ends up with a little robot friend that just appeared out of nowhere. He then does what explorers do, and begins to explore this vast underwater hellscape.
As TheGamer's resident Cthulu expert, I detected some allusions to Lovecraft's work here. There are multiple references to old gods and the cradle of mankind, and the fact that we're underwater fighting bizarre, mutated sea creatures all imply that this is supposed to be a spooky, Lovecraftian experience. However, everything is a tad too cute, so even though the sound effects or music will give you the sense that something disturbing is on the way, it never really gets all that unnerving. The story also may have a few translation errors, which muddy up exactly what the plot is supposed to be.
More Like Samus Meh-ran
Now, this is a Metroidvania, and at this point, you should have a solid idea of what that entails. There will be paths blocked until you gain new items, multiple ways to go, secrets to find, and a pretty massive map to traverse.
In terms of Metroidvanias though, there's no 'Vania to this one. This is all Metroid, almost to a fault. The doors are all colored in a way that implies you need certain projectiles to open them, like Metroid. You roll around to get through cramped tunnels, like Metroid. You get a charge shot and some bombs that you lay on walls to open up new pathways, and other upgrades; all elements taken straight out of Metroid. Even your main character is kind of wearing a diving suit that resembles Samus Aran's power suit.
Which begs the question: Why wouldn't I just play Metroid? Outbuddies does Metroid pretty well, and it plays fine, but its aspiration to be Metroid is so blatantly on display, that it doesn't offer anything unique enough to stand on its own.
It does have some original ideas. Your weird little support buddy has abilities, like picking things up using telekinesis, so you can move giant blocks in order to use them as platforms or to place on pressure switches. However, I thought the robot's controls felt kind of finicky at times, and it's not enough to be considered a selling point for the game.
The Ocean Is Quite Purple
Outbuddies has an interesting visual style, going for a kind of retro, NES-like color palette, and some pretty detailed sprites. The color scheme does a pretty solid job of invoking feelings of dread, as everything is a kind of dark purple, blue, or red with flashes of radioactive, lime green. It's otherworldly, although I thought the main character looked and moved like the old Duke Nukem games for MS-DOS. It's actually a shame this didn't come out for MS-DOS, as it would have been a huge hit if had released back in the early 90s. The backgrounds also look a lot like Axiom Verge, which is not a great game for this to be compared to, as it's vastly more interesting.
While on the whole, the game is far too cartoony to create any feeling of dread. There's some pretty intense heartbeat or breathing sounds peppered throughout that can be somewhat anxiety-inducing. However, your gunshots are a bit more "pew-pew" than "bang-bang," which lightens things up. The music is adequate, and I liked how it picked up while in combat, and then mellowed out when you were just exploring. It can get a little repetitive though, which sadly can be said for most of Outbuddies in general.
Lost At Sea
In the time it took me to write this review, 16 new Metroidvanias probably just dropped on Steam. It's an incredibly competitive genre, and if you're going to take a crack at it, you better have one hell of a hook to draw attention away from the myriad other contenders.
Outbuddies is fighting an uphill battle, and it just doesn't have much to offer to place it above games like Hollow Knight, Axiom Verge, Ori & The Blind Forest, or even Metroid, the game that it very much wants to be. Simply being Metroid isn't enough to shoot up onto the list of must-play Metroidvanias, and as such, I don't know how much attention it's going to garner.
I admire the developer for taking a crack at making this game - and to be fair, it's perfectly competent and playable - but unless you've literally played through every Metroidvania currently available, or just want to play a game that's Metroid without actually being Metroid, there's not a ton of reasons to get friendly with Outbuddies.
A review copy of Outbuddies was provided to TheGamer for this review. Outbuddies is available on PC.