If we’re speaking honestly, I never much cared for the term “Metroidvania.” While I understand it exists as a kind-of, catch all term to define the hard to explain gameplay of the Metroid series; I’ve always felt the term itself pertains to a very specific kind of game—the combination of Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
To that end, it always annoys me when games like Axiom Verge or even Metroid itself is described as a “Metroidvania,” when they are just Metroids. Without the aesthetic or light RPG elements of Symphony of the Night, these games are missing the crucial “-vania” of the “Metroidvania” classification.
I bring this up because it was one of the things I thought about while playing Outbuddies DX; initially described to me as a, “‘Metroidvania’ with Lovecraftian elements.” However, as I began playing, it became painfully clear that this was just Metroid, and a pretty poor version, at that.
In Outbuddies DX, players take on the role of Nikolay Bernstein, an archeologist who is searching for clues about The Old Gods. While sailing in the South Atlantic Ocean, he is shipwrecked and awakens 36,000 feet under the sea—in the forgotten city of Bahlam. There he must uncover its mysteries, and free the ancient civilization of the Wozan from the clutches of the Old Gods.
It’s a decent enough story, and provides enough of a backdrop to why you’re exploring this strange city, however it’s upon playing the game that the frustration begins to set in. Simply put: Outbuddies DX just isn’t fun, feeling both too simplistic and overly complicated right from the get go.
Outbuddies DX is leaning hard into the NES Metroid; bothaesthetically very similar and even in the basic design of it’s gameplay. However, control somehow feels very stilted, feeling less like a proper NES-era game, and more like a NES-looking game that was built in unity. Shooting feels kind of weightless and dissatisfying, limited to four directions; and movement in general is kind of slow and makes the game feel boring. Jumping in particular can be a bit of a gamble as you’ll land on platforms that seem too high to reach, or undershoot jumps even when sprinting into them.
What’s more is it doesn’t seem like there are any health upgrades in this game, so you can only ever take four hits, and given the stilted controls and less than stellar shooting, this can make fighting some enemies and bosses in particular incredibly difficult for completely artificial reasons.
Even worse is the game’s map which is incredibly nondescript; never providing you with any kind of legend or even a basic idea of what icon means what. All you get are different coloured dots and a whole lot of guess-work.
But what’s more odd is just how much stuff the game throws at you; from moment one you’re given a crouch—which acts as the Morph Ball of this game until you get an actual Morph Ball, but also a stealth mechanic—a dodge roll, a wall jump, a sprint, and the ability to swim. On top of this, you’re also given a mechanical sidekick who you can freely control to scan entire rooms; but who also has telekinetic abilities to move blocks, and can also manipulate enemies to turn them into platforms by flinging energy at them with slingshot controls for some asinine reason.
While some may praise the game for giving you so many options right from the start, I honestly found this, not only to be very cumbersome—often forgetting I had the sprint and the dodgeroll—but it completely removes the excitement and tension from the exploration element of the game.
That’s exactly what makes Metroid work so well as an exploration game. You’re given very little right off the bat, and you’re constantly finding yourself running into walls; needing to backtrack and find little nooks and crannies that may lead you to the resources to open the many locked doors. It not only incentivizes you to explore, but it demands it of you, which makes it both exciting, and extremely tense, given the hostility of the planet you’re exploring.
But Outbuddies DX has forgotten this crucial element of the game it was so clearly inspired by. Sure, there are a few locked doors here and there, but the game’s path is designed so linearly—at least from what I’ve seen through my time with it—and you’re just given so many ways to traverse the land right away that it just becomes a very dull experience.
Furthermore, the game is visually kind of boring. Every area looks fairly similar, the design of the main character isn’t interesting and the Wozan just look like 8-bit Tonberrys. Furthermore, I’m not entirely sure why it’s attempting a Lovecraftian influence—although it never explicitly says so, the mention of “Old Gods” and a forgotten sunken city is kind of a dead giveaway—because it never really explores the more interesting elements of the Lovecraftian mythos.
None of the enemy monsters look particularly Lovecraftian, looking more like fairly generic Metroid enemies than any twisted horrors of claws and tentacles; and boss monsters, in particular, are pretty uninspired. Furthermore, it never really dives into the deeper elements that come with the Lovecraftian mythos, never exploring the ideas of the existential horror of these “Old Gods,” or the madness that comes from the knowledge of their presence.
The game seems very tonally at odds with itself too in several aspects. For one thing, the name Outbuddies DX makes no sense and doesn’t really convey what the game is. I get that it’s a multiplayer game, and you’re accompanied by a little robot companion, but there’s no narrative connection between these two “characters,” and the robot is more of a tool than a partner, so it doesn’t really make sense.
Speaking of not making sense, there’s a weird moment at the very start where the first line of dialouge from our hero is “What the Fuck!” but then almost every other line of dialogue from the main character is old, text-based emoticons, so the swear is there for no other reason than to create some idea of edginess this game wants to have.
Other moments like when the music drops out and all you can hear is the character’s breathing seems to attempt to create a tense atmosphere, but typically only happens in empty rooms; and considering you have not only a laser gun, but a whole slew of abilities at your disposal to deal with any kind of threat, there’s nothing to really build the tension on.
Outbuddies DX is a game I will at least commend for being somewhat decent considering it was developed by a single person. However, the more I played it, the more frustrated I got with it, and the more I wished I was playing Super Metroid, or even Hollow Knight. It’s a brave first attempt by ultimately, there are far better examples in the “Metroidvania” genre out there.