Oh boy, we’re going to have a clackety-clack-clack-clacky good time with this one! Okay, I admit it: I have a bit of a soft spot for typing games, and perhaps I have them to thank for being a pretty good typist (and high school typing class- F G F SPACE F G F SPACE!). The funny thing is they used to be a lot more common in the early days of the IBM PC, perhaps most notably Mario Teaches Typing. Then they kind of disappeared for a while.
In 1999 we got Typing of the Dead, a modified version of House of the Dead 2 (a horror rail-shooter) featuring a pair of QWERTY keyboards on its arcade cabinet. I don’t think I ever had so much fun typing on a keyboard before that. TotD would get some sequels, but I haven’t seen much else. But finally, developers at Fishing Cactus decided we need a new typing game, and brought us Outshine (launching on PC on November 3rd, 2022), which claims Typing of the Dead as its inspiration. Grab your keyboard, pop those knuckles, and become BFFs with ASDF JKL;, it’s time to Outshine!
Outshine’s “plot” is summed up in one sentence by the developers: “After the Shards experimented on Hue, they pushed it so hard, resulting in unleashing its power.”
You play as the ethereal Hue, a humanoid figure taking revenge against the Shards for being experimented on (I guess). Outshine is designed in an arcade style, much like its inspiration, so there’s not much room for a story. However, it doesn’t quite end with that one sentence. As you proceed through the game’s levels, there are messages that appear which you must type that gradually shed more light on the game’s world. The game’s word list also seems to loosely follow a theme; it doesn’t just use any old random words.
This game doesn’t do any more than it needs to to build its world. It’s highly focused on its gameplay and purpose, and for something like a typing game, that’s fine. You’re going to be too busy giving your keyboard a workout to worry about it.
Wordbullets Per Minute
At its core, Outshine follows closely in the footsteps of the Typing of the Dead games, but it does innovate quite a bit on the typing game genre. As with TotD the game largely runs on rails (after all, you need most of the keys on your keyboard for typing!), but it differs in that your character is visible on screen and needs to be controlled to an extent. Similar to runner games where you endlessly run while moving left and right to avoid obstacles, in Outshine you need to maneuver Hue left and right as he runs forward, to avoid enemies that move into you, mines, attacks, and level obstacles while simultaneously typing words attached to said enemies in order to destroy them.
This is accomplished by default using the left and right shift keys, which works reasonably well, but you can also rebind the keys used for all non-typing functionality. You also have some help in the form of a toggle-able shield and a special attack which wipes out all enemies within a certain range. The need to control your character simultaneously while you type words gives what might otherwise be a mundane experience a much more game-y feel and makes things a lot more intense as you learn to simultaneously type and use your abilities to survive.
This comes to a head when you reach the boss battles at the end of each of the game’s levels. Here you have to type longer and more complex words while dodging lasers, bombs, and projectiles you need to shoot down. It can be a lot to juggle all the action with the typing needed to destroy the boss, but it feels very satisfying when you win. My only issue is the re-use of some of the bosses in later levels, just with more or faster mechanics. It comes off as padding the game content, but it’s nothing major. The whole experience is enjoyable enough that you won’t mind some repeat fights.
One of Outshine‘s best features is how much it lets you customize the experience. In every level, you’re shooting for a high score, much like any rail shooter game. Before you start, you can select from a wide range of modifiers that will make the game easier (By giving you more ability charges, for example) or harder (limiting word visibility, having to retype words after errors, disabling abilities…), and you can set the overall game difficulty based on typing speed (increasing means the enemies will move and attack faster).
Because of the gameplay elements, it’s certainly possible to clear the game on higher difficulty settings even if you can’t quite muster the speed necessary, which I actually like a lot. By using difficulty modifiers and raising the difficulty itself, you get higher scoring potential. Every level has a leaderboard and you’re going to want to push yourself to move up the ranks. It’s all very well designed and can cater to players of all typing skill levels. Outshine does a great job of encouraging you to push your limits, while making sure you’re never stuck.
There are a few minor stumbles with the gameplay. Word targeting can be a little confusing and janky at times. The game will routinely throw several words at you at once, and generally, the first letter you type locks you on to a particular word. Sometimes there is more than one word that starts with the same letter though, and while the second or third letter thus determine which one you lock onto, if you make an error you can end up locking onto an entirely different word than the one you were going for, causing you to make even more errors.
This proved particularly problematic with the retype-word-on-error-made modifier. In Typing of the Dead, you could press the Esc key to deselect a word, which mitigated this issue. But in Outshine, there doesn’t seem to be any way to cancel a word once you lock on to it. In boss fights it’s a particularly big problem because you can’t shoot down the one-letter projectiles often being fired at you while you’re in the middle of a word, forcing you to use your shield if you have it. You can of course plan accordingly and make sure the screen is clear of projectiles before beginning a word, but this could definitely be improved.
Outshine‘s game world is highly abstract, with lots of geometric shapes, swirly energy effects, and more which effectively disconnect from reality. This lends well to the arcade game style the game is aiming for. It all looks great, but feels unoptimized and there are limited graphical options, which is odd for a PC game. The visual level of detail didn’t seem as high as the strain it placed on my system, which is a bit old but runs big budget titles seemingly better than this game. If you’ve kept up with PC tech you’re probably fine, but it’s something to be aware of. More graphical settings would have been nice. That said, I commend the overall look and feel. Just wish I got a more consistent frame rate.
On the audio front, the quality is overall very solid. The sounds, particularly the typey-shooty sounds, are good and have subtle variation to keep the sound from becoming too droning. The enemy explsions and ability sounds fit with what you see and feel satisfying. The only problem is I want more. The bosses in particular are rather silent aside from the attacks. Too much sound in the background would be distracting for a game like this, so I think they erred on the side of caution, which is good, but I feel like the bosses need a bit more audio feedback.
The music. It’s quite good, providing a very electronic soundtrack which fits with the feel and theme of the game. But kind of like the sound, there isn’t enough. I want more! There is one main track used in much of the game – it is dynamic and shifts in feel and intensity when you’re doing well and your score multiplier increases. But it kind of overstays its welcome. The quality is good, but it needs more variety.
Words I Probably Said
From a quality standpoint, Outshine lives up to its name, There is a stumble here and there but it delivers a fun and satisfying experience. In an era where scores are hardly even a thing anymore, Outshine challenges you and makes you want to better them.
This game might not have the same sort of quirky charm as its inspiration, but it fills a much needed void in an understated genre with a quality entry. If you want a fun arcade-style experience that can potentially also sharpen your keyboarding skills, you really can’t go wrong here.
Steam review copy provided by Fishing Cactus. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Featured image courtesy of Fishing Cactus.