Outbuddies

A game by Julian Laufer for PC, Switch, PS4, and Xbox One, originally released in 2019.
Outbuddies is a metroidvania starring an adventurer/archaeologist named Nikolay Bernstein who pilots his airship out to the southern Atlantic Ocean in search of an alien civilization that he believes to be the origin of mankind, despite his colleagues questioning his sanity. Diving beneath the surface, he is somehow wounded and loses consciousness, only to be awakened by an unknown intelligent mechanism, which becomes his companion – or buddy – for duration of his adventure. The player can alternate control between Bernstein and his buddy, or turn control of the buddy over to another player in 2P co-op.


Bernstein finds himself in Bahlam, a sunken city that was once home to the Old Gods, and is currently inhabited by wandering beasts and a race of friendly creatures known as the Wozan. The Wozan are allied against the Old Gods who enslaved their ancestors thousands of years ago before suddenly disappearing. Some Wozan managed to escape and carry on with their lives within the sunken ruins, while others remain captors of monstrous creatures and pain-inflicting machinations.


The Wozan help Bernstein during his journey, often providing a bit of exposition as to the history of Bahlam, and they hope that he will help them to return to the surface. The world is expansive, consisting of five large themed environments that take many hours to explore. Players are able to see the scale of the world via a metroidvania map that shows the outlines of all rooms from the start of the game. The map for each room is shown in full as soon as the player enters, displaying the room layout, along with save points, powerups, doorways, and teleporters. Still, the player needs to keep track of certain key elements so he knows which areas to revisit once he gains new abilities.


Bernstein has a decent moveset at the start of the game, but he must earn new movement abilities and weapons in order to fully explore the subterranean environment, per metroidvania standards. Bernstein can perform a 2x variable jump and a wall jump, and he can walk, run, climb ladders, duck, crawl, and swim. He has a stamina meter which powers his steam-based secondary abilities. At the start of the game, these abilities include a burst forward while swimming and a dodge roll that lets him pass safely through enemies and some hazards. Both of these maneuvers may be performed twice in succession before the meter is drained, but it refills quickly.


You begin the game without a weapon and must instead sneak past enemies by crawling along the ground, remaining still while within their line of sight, and/or dodge rolling past them. In the opening areas, tutorial graphics wordlessly explain the controls and put you through the paces of walking, running, jumping, and dodge rolling, as well as triangle jumping upward through narrow openings. You also learn that dashing underwater will allow you to burst upward from the surface to reach higher platforms, and you can also lock your aim in a given direction while swimming, which becomes more useful once you have a weapon.


You learn to make use of your “buddy” who has some form of telekinesis that allows it to manipulate objects in the environment, and these abilities change as the player explores and recovers “corridium” pickups. At the start of the game, your buddy can manipulate certain types of blocks and cause them to float around the environment. These can be used as stepping stones, weights to open locked doors, or even dropped on enemies to smash them. The controls for manipulating these blocks are occasionally squirrely, as the blocks sometimes switch between moving toward your buddy and moving away from it, leading to a fair amount of fumbling about. Also, blocks have physics applied to them, so they rotate and roll a bit, sometimes requiring you to manually rotate them in order to stack them or get them to fit through openings.


Later, your buddy unlocks the ability to transform some enemies into moving platforms, make enemies attack each other, transform them into stackable blocks, or even cause them to spit out helpful pickups… but this information is not clearly communicated. Your buddy can only manipulate certain enemies, and they can only be manipulated in specific prescribed ways that are not always apparent.


As your buddy unlocks new abilities, he must cycle through the possible options (done by rotating a ring), but it’s not immediately apparent which type of ability is needed. Furthermore, most enemies are completely immune to these effects – even enemies of the same type in the same room – requiring that the player keep an eye out for a blue circle that occasionally flashes overs enemies to let him know that they can be manipulated.


Early on, you come across a weapon known as the Seahorse Revolver, which fires plasma blasts in four directions. It has a medium firing rate and can be powered up to shoot a charged blast that is as powerful as a missile. Later, you encounter a missile launcher that is capable of firing explosive projectiles but with limited ammo storage. Per the conventions established by Metroid, you can only hold five missiles to start, and finding missile tanks allows you to increase your storage capacity by five for each tank found. Missile pickups are found by killing enemies, which also drop health pickups.


Less conventional weapons come in the form of the Corridium Galvanizer and the Bubble Beam. The Corridium Galvanizer lets you shoot projectiles that crawl along floors, walls, and ceilings, allowing you to blast enemies outside of your direct line of fire, and even around corners. The Bubble Beam lets you freeze enemies in place temporarily, allowing you to use them as platforms, or just following up with another weapon to damage them. When powered up, the player can charge the Bubble Beam to freeze multiple foes, cause heavy follow-up damage, and then immediately re-freeze them. Per metroidvania standards, weapons corresponds to a color-coded doors that require specific projectiles to open.


Later, the player acquires new movement abilities, including a steam-powered double jump (which draws from the same meter as the dodge roll and underwater speed boost), a morph ball-style ability that is essentially the same as crawling except that you are invulnerable to certain environmental hazards, and some late-game upgrades enhance your dodge roll and morph ball to quickly dispatch enemies and fully explore the environment. The player even gains access to bombs that reveal hidden passages, although the bombs aren’t simply dropped on the ground but rather must be attached to the specific objects the player wishes to destroy, thus requiring a bit of extra time and precision.


New abilities are opened slowly over the length of the game, which restricts the player’s movements to specific areas until the upgrades are discovered. That said, the areas accessible to the player are often quite large, resulting in a lot of re-trodden ground when the player encounters a dead end. This is further confounded by the player’s slow movement speed and a small number of fast travel options that don’t help significantly until the back half of the game.


The game’s generally dark palette and low color range occasionally acts as a hindrance as well, making it more difficult for players to parse the environment, separate background and foreground elements, and discover destructible walls. This can lead to situations where the player becomes stuck, not because he lacks the required ability, but because he lacks the understanding of how to apply the ability in order to move forward. Some extended side paths lead to optional pickups that can be traded for the ability to respawn… with the warning that you may be sacrificing innocent lives by doing so, and some paths lead to Wozan in need of rescue.


The difficulty level remains consistently above average throughout much the experience, with boss battles acting as difficulty spikes. This is due largely to the fact that the player gains new abilities over the course of the game, but not much more power in terms of attack strength. As such, it is up to the player to determine which weapons are best used against which enemies, and when to charge weapons to make use of their secondary effects.


Another reason that difficulty remains high is that the player does not acquire health extensions – unlike most metroidvania titles – so even when the player encounters more agile foes, he only has five units of health, just as he does in the opening areas, which further emphasizes the need to make the most of available weapons. In boss encounters, this leaves little room for error as bosses have overlong health bars and can withstand dozens of missile blasts before succumbing to their injuries. This results in a fair amount of trial and error as the player attempts to learn boss’ movement patterns… or finds a relatively safe area from which to unleash as much damage as possible before the boss has a chance to retaliate.


The difficulty is tempered somewhat by the player’s ability to control his free-floating companion, which can be used scout any given area, and even pass through walls to potentially locate hidden objects. Save points fully restore the player’s health, but they are spread out quite far. Fortunately, getting killed does not return the player to the most recent save point, but rather respawns him at the entrance to the current room, but he only respawns with the amount of health he had when he entered. Still, this allows the player to make steady progress, and encourages him to engage enemies in order to farm for health restoratives.


There are a few things that affect the already slow pace of the game, including transition animations that temporarily prevent you from shooting. This occurs when changing direction underwater or when falling from a great height. This also interrupts the charging effect of any weapons you’re carrying, which slows your ability to engage enemies. Strangely, double jumping also interrupts this charge effect.


There is no sound effect to inform the player when a given weapon is fully charged, although it only takes a second or so and there is a visual indicator, but this can be a hindrance when the player is focused on the enemy and not his character. Also, the player must let off the button in order for a charged shot to fire; if he lets off the button and immediately presses it, the charge is cancelled and replaced by a standard projectile. These design choices make the player character somewhat less responsive and reduce the player’s combat effectiveness.


As mentioned, the game world is divided into five regions, some of which have area-specific hazards. The visuals consist of chunky sprites and a reduced color palette, which is quite dark overall. The soundtrack enhances the player’s overall sense of isolation, interspersed with some upbeat tracks during harrowing enemy encounters. Story and world building are done through NPC encounters, with whom the player is generally free to engage or ignore as he likes.



2D CRED
Outbuddies was developed by Julian Laufer, a solo developer based in Cologne, Germany who developed the game in his free time beginning in 2013. Music for the game was composed by Robin Ogden, a.k.a. OGRE, who previously worked on Actual Sunlight, This Is The Police, and Hacknet: Labyrinths, as well as HBO's series Vice Principals. The game was funded in part by a successful Kickstarter campaign.


The game was published by Headup Games, which published Slime-san and numerous other titles.


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