Puzzle platformers have exploded in popularity among the indie scene. But with the explosion in popularity, there doesn’t seem to be a dip in quality. This is more surprising since each one has to have some unique selling point. Whether mind-numbingly difficult or featuring a unique art style, there are a number of ways indie’s stand out. Out of Line, while not difficult, does a great job of encouraging players through achievement vs punishment. All the while they traverse through a stunningly beautiful landscape.
In Out of Line, you take control of San: a cutesy lead armed with a golden-tipped spear who is attempting to escape the confines of the factory. The factory takes on a life of its own as there’s clearly something sinister going on amongst its various corrupted machines.
The first thing you’ll notice, upon the second you hit the title screen, is just how gorgeous Out of Line truly is. Having hand-drawn scenes was heavily pressed in their marketing and rightfully so. Every scene has what feels like a whisk of paint splattered across the screen. Almost as if you could reach out and physically touch it. What really brings these sequences to life is the color which complements it perfectly. Dark hues of red and moody purples show up when fending off the machinery, all the while golds and lighter hues of greens bring the scene to life in moments of triumph as San slowly ascends..
Further enlivening each scene is the use of fore and background elements. Each drawn scene jumps off the screen due to the way its elements are presented. Your character lies on the mid plane which allows for a true sense of depth. There’s a special feeling as you are jumping across the landscape as San briefly disappears behind a corroded pipe obscuring your view.
Threading each scene together is an emotive soundtrack expressing feelings from sadness to fear and love to hope. The enlightening scenes have an angelic melodic feel which are contrasted by the darker scenes. The play between dark and light throughout the roughly 3 hours of gameplay
Puzzle Building Blocks
As you traverse the factory, you’ll run into a variety of puzzles to test your mettle against… well… the metal. Each puzzle intricately uses your versatile spear. From using it to springboard San, to stop the rotation of gears, or as a system of levers and pulleys, its uses grow as you progress. It’s honestly even fun just tossing the spear around as it comes whirring back. What Out of Line does so well is using each puzzle as a building block for the next. You’re never presented with a puzzle that throws something out of left field. There is certainly some trial and error involved to an extent, but you already have all the tools necessary to complete each puzzle.
There is a puzzle in the latter half of the game that had me seriously scratching my head. Is this a glitch? Do I have to somehow back track? No and no. This was one of those instances where simply thinking of how each mechanic of the puzzle worked was the solution. Turns out that trying to brute force puzzles often isn’t the way to go.
Puzzles pile on intricacies in a few ways. Some of these involved timing elements, while others involved a number of spears that break over time. At first, there is one additional spear. So, you have to deal with your gold spear and one timed spear. Then that adds up to two, three and even four. The addition of spears as you go provides completing a task in a well-known way, but with a little bit more thought behind it, such a gradual ramp-up in keeping puzzling fresh during a play through.
There is at least one puzzle that involves a boss of sorts. It’s not inherently difficult, but that doesn’t take away from its power to add to the overarching story. As with a lot of areas, the difficulty isn’t the moment that clings to you, it’s the overall presentation and how it all unfolds.
What is Left for San?
While San is the only named character, he is certainly not the only character in the story. You meet a few other San-like characters, of which you could make the argument that they are actually him… in a way. These characters act as your sort of coop buddy in various areas. You have to aid them in their ascent by more-timing based puzzles. These instances provide a bit of life into the story. Even with no voiced characters.
Out of Line is a standout in a world where games are seemingly skewing toward difficulty to tell their story. Instead, it uses a soft trial and error approach to guide the player through a tale of hope and despair. If there was one negative, it would be that I don’t think the game really had time to fully spread its wings. Clocking in at around three hours of play, there is certainly room for the game to delve deeper into its systems and story.
Developed by: Nerd Monkeys
Published by: Hatinh Interactive
Reviewed on: PC
Available on: PC, Switch, PS4, XBox One