Sunken cities? Lovecraftian lore? Metroidvania?

You had me at hello!

Enter Outbuddies DX, a game by Julian Laufer and published by Headup Games that follows archaeologist Nikolay Bernstein, who finds himself 36,000 feet under the sea after a shipwreck during a terrible storm. With a fascinating topic executed with a perfect blend of creepy but colourful graphics, a tense soundtrack, complex platforming elements, a range of mechanics to learn and items to collect, and fascinating enemies and environments.

Outbuddies DX is an utter triumph on every front. It’s been a true labour of love for its one developer, Laufer, who worked on it for an impressive six years before its initial release in late 2019. Since then, Laufer has been updating the game to achieve the final product. Well, spoiler alert: it was worth the wait!

I realised I was onto a winner even during the initial cutscenes, which depict some of the most gorgeous storm scenes I’ve ever witnessed in a game; I genuinely gasped as I saw the bright, yellow-white lightning tear across the navy blue sky.

And Outbuddies continues to be a graphical triumph; the pixel art is striking, and goes a long way in setting the creepy atmosphere of the game. There’s something at once unusual and compelling about the dark, shadowy tunnels that Nikolay navigates contrasted with the vibrant and watchful eyes of the underwater creatures. The environments feel genuinely oppressive and terrifying, and I always felt apprehensive about what I would find around the next corner.

One of the main highlights of the game for me was the enemy model designs, which are creative, unnerving, and all have their own quirks that make you dread them for different reasons. They all have a wonderful feel of Lovecraftian eeriness about them which I loved, and this is best evidenced in the incredible array of bosses you’ll find as you navigate the undercity. The dynamic music, which changes depending on your health level for example, also works to build the atmosphere and tension wonderfully.

The bosses are another high point of the game, each with their own incredible designs, and each with unique mechanics that the player must observe and overcome. They require careful consideration but are very doable and rewarding to defeat.

Now, Outbuddies can be a bit frustrating at times – but I don’t think that’s the game’s fault or that it detracts from the experience, and let me explain why. There were a few times where I spent a good hour or so having explored everything I could explore, but not being able to work out what I should do next. I always worked it out eventually, and carried on enjoying the game, but it did get a bit annoying in the meantime.

I’m not going to hold that against it, though, because A) I think that’s just in the Metroidvania style – backtracking is required and that sometimes means you’ll be stumped for a bit before you work it out, and B) because I can be a bit incompetent and slow and I feel no shame admitting that. And that is absolutely not the game’s fault! Just a warning, though, to potential players of the game that there are moments where you might be unsure of what to do next – but that’s okay, and if anything it just makes the experience of exploring a Lovecraftian undercity as authentic as it can possibly be.

You will feel lost and a little maddened as you wander round in circles thinking is this the right way? – and I would say that’s absolutely the point. Nobody wakes up 36,000 feet under the sea with a clear idea of where they are and where they’re going!

Outbuddies DX took me by surprise. I went in blindly and quickly became addicted, and it’s a game I’ll be recommending from here on out. Spooky, mysterious, unnerving, but striking and utterly compelling. I loved it.

Outbuddies DX is available from the Microsoft Store for Xbox One and PC, and on the Nintendo eShop for €17.99/ $17.99/ £14.99, and is coming to PS4 soon. It’s also available on Steam, GOG, and Humble Bundle.

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