There might be many amongst you who would recoil in horror at a “retro 2D platformer inspired by Portal”. I would recoil too. My body would shake and my palms would sweat as I imagined a game with chunky pixels (good), cheery chip tunes (good) and brain bending but derivative puzzles that make me feel stupid (bad). Thankfully, Miniboss’s Out There Somewhere is far more original than you might think, and more old school too. It is also tough but fair. But it still makes me feel stupid.
The central mechanic evokes Portal without directly ripping it off. In fact, it has far more in common with the complex mechanics of something like Braid. I fully expected to be firing orange and blue portals when I started playing, but its both simpler and more interesting that that. You have a gun that fires a projectile. Wherever your projectiles hit, you are instantly teleported. Your projectiles can fire straight through certain types of wall or block, and you can maintain your momentum and use your teleport powers as you fall to reach higher areas. Its difficult to describe in words, but within seconds of seeing the game in action you will get the idea. I’m not sure if any other game has used the same mechanic, but it allows for some brilliant puzzles. These are combined with some rock-hard platforming that emphasises precision and timing.
The game does have some thoroughly brilliant chip tunes, albeit ones that loop very quickly at the risk of becoming annoying. It also has those kinds of retro graphics that are doing more than just referencing games from the past. Its authentically retro, it actually looks like it could run on a Commodore 64, although obviously the animation and frame rate is much better. So while it plays (and your character handles) a lot like Super Meat Boy, it looks more like VVVVVV. For some, these basic and somewhat ugly visuals may be a negative, but I loved them. It inspires nostalgia not just with these chunky graphics, but with structure, atmosphere and tone too.
So with an appealing visual aesthetic (to me at least), and a breezy chip tunes soundtrack, Out There Somehwere made me keep playing long after I faced my first tough puzzle and would normally have given up. You see, I am not the biggest puzzle game fan, and when I become stuck in a game I have little perseverance, and do not tolerate my own perceived lack of insight for long. Out There Somewhere has a very particular structure and pacing that helped me tolerate the experience more than I expected I would.
The game doesn’t scroll, its structured as a series of screens. Each screen has an exit and by reaching it you move on to the next screen. As such, it evokes old 8 bit classics like Manic Miner or Jet Set Willy. This affects the pace of the game too. You spend a few seconds (or even minutes) looking at the level, trying to figure out what you need to do. Once you have the plan of how to progress, the execution becomes the next obstacle. The timing and precision needed can be extreme. Knowing how to get to the next screen is one thing, but actually doing it is another. Often you will need to teleport five or six times within a few seconds, and if you’re timing is out by a fraction of a second you will be eaten by an enemy or melted in a lava pit. Frustration is offset by the liberal checkpoints and how quickly the game gets you back into the action.
From the opening moments of the game – where you are shot down on an alien planet following a brief 2D space shooter section – Out There Somewhere has a consistent and convincing retro feel. The menus’ visuals, sound and even the themes of the game all reference the 8-bit era. Crash landing on an alien planet and slowly reassembling your ship while interacting with weird amorphous aliens was something I remember from dozens of classic 8-bit titles. The spooky, otherworldy atmosphere and the uncompromising difficulty are present and correct too.
I quite enjoyed Out There Somewhere. If this seems like damning with faint praise, I should mention that this kind of twitch puzzle game is not exactly my thing. With a clever main gameplay idea, tough but fair puzzles and a nice (if divisive) look and feel, there’s a lot to like about Out There Somewhere. In other words, if this looks like it might be your kind of thing, then yes, it is your kind of thing.
7 astronauts poking aliens, wondering if they are dangerous out of 10