I got the review codes for Outbuddies DX and Ruiner at the same time. Never did I think that I’d wind up loving the isometric shooter and despising the Metroid-like. Outbuddies DX is the kind of game that you dread playing more of, and it’s also not the kind of game you can write a fun review of afterward, like Liberated. This is going to be a short review, kids. Right at the top, I’ll give you my recommendation: don’t bother.
In Outbuddies DX, you play as a scientist in a dive suit and his hovering robotic friend, who I’ll call “Buddy.” Your goal is to explore a massive subterranean area that is nonlinear in the traditional Metroid way, where finding new weapons or movement abilities allows you to explore more areas, with a healthy amount of backtracking. I found the game’s art design ugly, with bubble-covered tilesets that don’t always accurately reflect the boundaries of the area, and enemies that seem to be missing several frames of animation. Background objects will occasionally pepper a given room, but they’re often awkwardly juxtaposed with “foreground” elements. Your initial moveset involves jumping, dodge rolling, shooting your ray gun, and running. You’re given some limited tutorials, and they’re communicated via little gifs that, while clever, are not immediately appreciable. You know what I’d prefer over cleverness? Clarity. You’ll also quickly learn how to pilot Buddy, which is awkward.
Buddy can be controlled by you or by a couch co-op friend. It can use a tractor beam to drag certain objects around, although it is finicky and frustrating to use, occasionally demanding some level of precision. It can scan walls to look for breakable tiles, but it can also scan enemies and environmental objects and give you icons that are sometimes self-explanatory, but other times, aren’t. Sometimes it will show you a switch that isn’t actually there. Within the first hour or so (assuming you’ve found three items), Buddy will be able to “hack” enemies. Remember the hacking gun in Axiom Verge? It’s kind of like that, except poorly done. Since Buddy can float around an area without taking damage, he could easily hack enemies by hovering over them and pressing a button. But no, he has to charge up a “seed,” and then slingshot that “seed” towards the enemy he wants to hack. And while every enemy type could be hacked in Axiom Verge to different effect, that’s not the case here. Instead, rather than limit hacking to specific enemy types, certain individual enemies can or can’t be hacked in a given room. What this means is that you may have been able to hack a school of piranha fish in one area, this other identical school of fish in a different area cannot be hacked. There is no consistency, which means that you wind up having to scan every enemy in a given room every time.
What I just described for Buddy, where nothing is intuitive or user-friendly, is a philosophy that extends to the entire game. For another example, the subscreens are almost completely useless. The map is an unhelpful parody of a map you’d find in literally any other Metroid-like: rooms have checkmarks that look like “down” symbols and sideways “Ps” that are missing a critical pixel to indicate that one or more items were found in that room. Neither of these symbols hover over the spot where that object was found (the map’s rooms are too small), but rather to the side of the room, which means they often hover over doorways, which doesn’t even make sense. You can’t zoom in on the map. You have a minimap on the top right of your screen during gameplay, but it has absolutely nothing to do with the room’s actual layout, and it uses icons that I can’t figure out. Your other sunscreen options are looking at icons of your suit upgrades and the weapons you have, but there is no text or explanations. If you forget how to do something, you could look a the game’s Wiki but it’s nonfunctional. You can also activate co-op, which you shouldn’t force upon your friends.
Gameplay is tediously slow, especially when you consider how many rooms are flooded. Combat feels like a chore, as you have few options and lack the mobility of something like Metroid to escape damage or get a better bead on your opponents. Scanning every room with Buddy immediately becomes a living nightmare comparable to surveying every room in Metroid II with the Spider Ball. At one point, I found myself in a large area that I couldn’t get out of, repeatedly going back and forth until I realized I lacked the firepower to beat the boss and the abilities required to escape, so I had to restart the game. Every facet of Outbuddies DX is either too simplistic or more complicated than it needs to be which results in a slow grind that will have you frequently sighing in frustration. In short, it’s just not fun to play. Granted, Metroid-likes are hard to get right, but it’s not really the map that’s lacking here, it’s getting around the map. Interactions with non-player characters (Jawa-like creatures) don’t give you the kind of guidance that you might find in something like Cave Story, which is probably Outbuddies DX’s closest spiritual cousin.
If you look at the game’s Steam forums, you’ll see that Outbuddies DX is being updated continually (I suspect it was updated at least once since release), so I have some hope that it will, at some point, be a better game. Today, however, is not that day. If you’re itching for a Metroid-like, I did review an excellent one just recently. Without Outbuddies, I feel like the skeleton is there, but the meat needs some more time in the oven.