In the perpetual insanity that permeates game download shops, no matter which one of them you could be surfing, there’s something that’s comfortably consistent: the presence of a new game in that genre whose name I hate bringing up. You know, the one that borrows elements from the Metroid series and Igarashi’s Castlevania games. Don’t say it, you know the name and I do too, and that’s enough. Safe to say, there’s always a new one of those every so often of wildly varying quality, some of which even surpassing their influences in some way. Others, well, they try their damndest.
Outbuddies DX is one of such that falls in the latter category. It’s a retro-inspired game that goes too far in trying to be something that it clearly is not, and when it attempts to go the other way, it fails miserably, which in its case is trying to have a multiplayer component to the whole thing. Playing as a scientist who’s bent on exploring an uncharted network of caverns deep underground, you’re accompanied by a floating robotic partner called Buddy, who if you’re playing with another person is the second playable character. Thing is, even when playing by yourself and getting to control both of them, the game still feels incomplete, a slog to say the least.
There are a bunch of things that Outbuddies gets wrong right from the start that are essential elements of the genre. First, its map system is bafflingly bad: instead of going for the traditional grid that fills up as you go, the one in this game is unfriendly and confusing, as it inaccurately discerns points places you’ve been to to the ones you’ve still to visit, utterly failing at its basest function. Now, I’ve played plenty of games that didn’t have instantly reliable maps, like Hollow Knight, but Outbuddies takes the cake at being an absolute pain to navigate and keep track of your progress.
Then comes simply moving about, which feels like you’re walking underwater — unresponsive and utterly annoying. You get a means to defend yourself a few minutes into the adventure, and even that takes a long time getting used to since the pellets you fire are sometimes inconsistent in how they hit enemies or their apparent secondary function of lifting you up in the air for a few moments, something I wasted about an hour trying to put to use in order to cross a spiked pit and failed.
These problems would be excused somewhat if the game did a good job signaling where to go next, which it does not thanks to a confusing art style that fails at conveying what can be walked or jumped over from what’s supposed to be the background, or even worse, what can hurt you or the elements that can be manipulated by your robot pal, who has some telekinetic abilities. Rocks that can be moved look exactly like ones that don’t, placement doesn’t make any sort of logical sense, and even if you end up coming up with an apparent use for them, it’s likely that it’s not the right course of action.
The overall level design in this game is unintuitive and not a whole lot of fun to try and figure out since Outbuddies does a terrible job at teaching you its basics by omitting information when it does try to show you anything. I felt like I’ve wasted my time trying to figure things out simply because I didn’t know any of the tools that I had at my disposal well enough to make good use of them, something that Metroid so brilliantly did back in 1987 without having to hammer in any tutorials simply through sheer level design, which is exactly why it and its sequels are so beloved and happen to be emulated to this day through primarily independent games like this.
I had hoped that Outbuddies DX would be another great addition with a unique spin to the ridiculous overflow of games in this style, but it’s nothing of the sort. It’s disappointing to see that even after seeing release on the PC last year it didn’t get any sort of upgrades or fixes to its most severe issues moving to the Switch in 2020. There are way better options out there to play and you don’t even have to look too far in the eShop or on Steam. Stay far away from this underground adventure.