As one of gaming’s oldest genres, puzzle games are a dime a dozen. Despite that, I find myself excited when a new one is released. The reason being that because there are so many to choose from, developers are forced to either get extremely creative with their presentation or risk falling into obscurity.
It’s just my luck then that I got to try out Out of Line, a new 2D side-scrolling puzzle platformer developed by Nerd Monkeys and published by Hatinh Interactive.
From the two hours of gameplay I experienced, it is clear that everything about Out of Line is meant to be a puzzle. From its story, which Nerd Monkey purposely left ambiguous (the game itself doesn’t provide any context or text dialogue for that matter), to the very scarce hints of gameplay mechanics (the tutorials are brief and not super immersive), you are left to infer a lot of what must be done. This is something that I found both intriguing and irritating at the same time, as I usually play games because I want to immerse myself in a new world and get to know its characters. However, Out of Line’s developers want main character San’s story to be left up to interpretation, and the driving force of guiding him through his hurdles to be curiosity.
All we know about the protagonist is that he is a child on a journey to discover one of life’s greatest lessons, and is the preferred target of giant claw machines. The premise doesn’t feel particularly riveting but the world and gameplay both felt immersive and fun enough to carry you through.
One of the things that set Out of Line apart for me is its gameplay. It’s not particularly revolutionary, but the way it was presented through an evolving 2D map was very attention-grabbing. Which isn’t easy to do when there are so many puzzle games doing the same thing.
The bulk of the gameplay centers around the spear that San carries. It can be used for anything but fighting. So, if your goal is to make it through a map, prepare to either throw it to jam certain mechanisms, use it as a stepping stool, or even turn it into a makeshift lever.
Because of the spear’s versatility (and sometimes the game’s lack of explanation) I spent quite a bit of time on certain puzzles, especially when the mechanic of a San look-alike was introduced and I had to get it across a map without it dying, or when little woodland creatures had to be guided through obstacles so they could get me to the other side of the map. Despite that, I never felt bored.
My only bad experience was in the form of a bug that kept the NPC sprites from loading and made it impossible for me to advance until I reset. This wasted a good 20 minutes of my time, but it’s important to keep in mind that this is an early gameplay sample and it’s unlikely that the issue will exist when the game finally releases.
In terms of visuals and music, Out of Line is actually quite nice. One of its most advertised points is that it is hand-drawn and this shines through as you make your way through the maps. Despite it being a 2D side-scroller, the world feels full and quite vibrant, especially for how dark the actual content of the game is. The music was less notable but it never felt like an earful or made me want to turn it off. It also added quite a lot of suspense to certain parts of the game. I am looking forward to the new maps and scores we are bound to see in the full release.
While brief, I had a lot of fun making my way through Out of Line. It was visually charming and left me feeling excited to interact more with the environment as well as the spear mechanic. I am still skeptical on how well the story will come together given its lack of narration, but perhaps I will be proven wrong when the game fully releases and we get to see more of it.
Out of Line is set for a Summer 2021 release date on Nintendo Switch and Steam, but will also be releasing on PS4 and Xbox One later this year. If you’re a fan of puzzle-platformers, or enjoy the thrill of being chased by giant claw machines, be sure to keep an eye on this title!
Preview copy provided by Hatinh Interactive for PC. Screenshots taken by writer. Featured image courtesy of Hatinh Interactive.