It was said before, and it will be said again: video game developers are some of the most impressive people in the world. After spending six years developing the original build for Outbuddies, it was released on PC for the world to see. Less than a year later, it was announced that the game would be heading to modern consoles, making a home amongst those that had inspired it. Given some technical updates and looking spiffy, the now-titled Outbuddies DX is the near-definitive version of one developer’s hard, determined work, brought to life by force of will. While clearly following the paths paved before, the game has fully established itself as a force within not just the metroidvania space, but gaming overall.
To provide some prefacing clarification, the DX edition is not a full-blown remake or sequel to the original title. It’s simply the base game with tons of updates and some additional content. That said, I have reviewed this game before, so much of the core experience is detailed within my original Outbuddies review. Even so, with the amount of updates available, it’s hard not to return to a game where I felt most of what was needed were further refinement and reworked gameplay structure. The DX build promised just that, so all the more reason to jump on the opportunity to (re-)review Outbuddies on the Nintendo Switch.
Story – Beyond the Sea, Somewhere
Per my words in the original review, Outbuddies stars “some dude” who “wakes up ‘somewhere.'” Originally criticizing the game for its vague, nondescript manner of storytelling, I’m not quite as torn on it this time around. To supply a short aside, my memory of playing the original title is not 100% concrete, so some manners of comparison between versions may not be totally accurate. Nevertheless, it seems as though the narrative aspect of Outbuddies DX has improved through in-game characters and a more straightforward explanation of the world. Understanding the circumstances of the situation felt easier to grasp, and the underground dwellers seemed more prevalent in the adventure. Then again, it’s hard to place this as effective update dosages or the fact that I’ve played this twice.
What continues to remain a large factor is the amount of filling-in-the-blanks one is encouraged to do. What metroidvanias tend to do is provide large chunks of story with generally one-sided biases that stimulate the desire to explore. Some take advantage of the lack of complexity and manipulate it to provide further convolution, though that isn’t much the case here. Straightforward to a degree, and mostly hidden within the subtext of visual evidence within certain areas, whatever story this world aims to tell is buried in the shadows—which, to be fair, isn’t deathly important for this type of game. From PC-release build to console-release build, I believe the narrative has improved, though only to the effect that it’s suitable enough to not be a sore spot.
Gameplay – Literally Rolling in Acid
To be blunt about it early on in this section of the review, the original Outbuddies pissed me off on numerous occasions. While DX also did to some degree, some much-appreciated quality of life improvements substantially lowered the amount of garbage the player has to deal with. Accessibility is something of an interesting discussion topic in gaming, and the developer decided to take one hard stance after originally going with the other. Where the original was, in my words, occasionally “brain-abolishing,” this version is similarly demanding, only with tremendous relief packages.
This is where my first genuine complaint of the new build comes to pass: Outbuddies DX is just a little too eager to hold your hand. Dozens of implementations that I don’t recall from the early build have come to pass, giving fresher players a chance to get through difficult spots. Upon death, the player will regain one portion of their health back, and continuously gain it with repeated demises. Later bosses have the game literally point out how to win comfortably. Quality of life is one thing, but pride is another. From what I could tell, these “hints” or aid cannot be switched off via the menu options, so it almost feels like having a game guide within the game itself. And as someone who has historically relished the challenge of games similar to Outbuddies‘s original build, I definitely miss said difficulty.
In hindsight, many of my struggles with the initial release could be attributed to the clunky control inputs. My previous review highlighted various disturbances with the gameplay, including unresponsive controls getting me damaged/killed numerous times. Thankfully, I can say that it has been (mostly) resolved with DX. Some weird kinks persist, including the intention of wall-jumping and instead double-jumping, rhythmic button-pressing not always registering, and momentum-based running jumps still being a pain. But compared to before, the control scheme has substantially improved and is much more fluid. Massive amount of button inputs still remain, though. Look at a standard Switch Pro Controller; chances are, every button does something in this game, with few duplicate actions.
Slowdown was almost nonexistent with Outbuddies DX, which is a massive sigh of relief. Nothing kills the validity of a game more than lag, slowdown, and an overall unfinished aura. With the console release, the developer has done a wonderful job of working out the bugs to make it perform as well as it possibly can. Immersion improves, battles feel more active, and the heartbreaking moments feel more like they’re your fault. Combined with the improved (though not flawless) control input, there were far fewer instances of the game working against me. If nothing else, the DX build has borne the template to how the game was meant to be played.
One last thing I’d like to note about gameplay that wasn’t addressed in the prior review was the potential for replayability. Something intriguing happened this time around, which may or may not have been attributed to the updates: I faced some bosses “out of order.” Some bosses have a required tag prior to proceeding, but after a certain point, in seems player-specific. Exploring the map will reap the reward of experimentation, and it’s entirely possible to miss certain upgrades to one’s arsenal, too. (I beat the game without getting the “Ancient Core” upgrade.) Speedrunning also has a place in the game’s design, as an in-game achievement urges the player to finish the campaign within 7 hours (I took about 9). As said in the prior preview, the developer understands the metroidvania genre, and the level of anti-linearity seems to make it all the more apparent.
Graphics & Audio – Mood Me Up, Scotty
I once said that the main character in Outbuddies looks right out of an “edutainment game.” Meant as an insult, it’s a little too crass for me to use now. Instead, I will say that the pixel quality of said main character, along with some of the early enemy designs, pale in comparison to the environmental works. According to Headup, publisher of the title, in the description of the trailer linked above, the DX build “offers vastly improved visuals.” I… do not see it. Some re-designs are quite obvious, such as the career-crushing red giant boss—who, thanks to the “hints,” took me four tries. Otherwise, I don’t see much of anything, and comparing the images attributed to this review to the last offers little differentiation. Most that I can remember are subtle, and more than anything, seeing that quoted text in the trailer description got my hopes up a bit too much. I expected something akin to Super Metroid to Metroid Fusion, but instead got Fusion to Zero Mission.
While never explicitly stated with my last run, I was quite fond of the tunes this game provides. Like with the visuals, whatever changes were implemented with the auditory qualities were (seemingly) minimal. Some sound effect changes and the Wozan speaking gibberish are neat, though don’t do much more for what the experience already provides. Deep, dark isolation with a minimal soundtrack that permeates foreboding danger. The tune that plays before boss fights is one of the most unnerving music tracks I’ve ever heard, especially in gaming. Upping the ante only when it needs to, the developer again understands that sometimes, silence is key. Occasionally, only the soft hums of ancient machinery will be audible in the background, sure to make your skin crawl. Combined with the darkness, it’s as effective as any game needs to be in inciting subtle anxiety.
Outbuddies DX was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch, with a review key provided by the developer, Julian Laufer.