Out of Line
“I have been chosen, farewell my friends. I go on to a better place” –Alien, Toy Story
There’s been an uptick in the last few years of games which can be described as “Small child, scary world” – a term Yahtzee Croshaw coined and Out of Line by Nerd Monkeys fits that framework quite nicely. You play as San, trying to flee your factory home as the Toy Story-inspired “The Claw” attacks. You do this by running to the right, jumping at what feels like ankle height, and solving the puzzles thrown in your way. If you’ve played Limbo, you might have some idea of what Out of Line has in store for you.
At A Glance
|Positives||+ Graphics and animation are excellent|
+ Respects players intelligence
+ Unique aesthetics
|Negatives||– A few minor bugs|
– Short (might not be a problem for you)
– Slightly too easy
|Price (When Reviewed)||£10.29|
|Our Playtime||4 hours 25 mins|
|Available On||PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch|
The action begins with San and their people being attacked, crushed, or hauled off to who knows where by the angry robot arms. You’re near-immediately presented with the types of puzzle which occur frequently in games of this genre – moving blocks and, the ever-popular, standing on buttons. However Out of Line mixes up these formulae nicely by equipping San with a javelin. With it, you can’t harm any of the antagonists, but rather use it for traversal and an extra element of puzzle solving. The javelin sticks into whatever you throw it at and acts as a platform and springboard. You can also recall it similarly to Thor’s hammer which creates complexity for some of the puzzles later on. It’s a good addition and refreshes some of the puzzles which I would have otherwise felt like I’d solved many times over in different games. You’ve been there, “put the block on the button to hold the door open” and so on. Unfortunately I think that players that have completed similar games in the past are going to find the puzzles don’t present enough of a challenge. There are a few that are tricky on first blush but the ideas get recycled fairly often. Before long you’ll be able to enter a room and understand what the solution is before you’ve even had to poke at the options presented to you.
If you can get past the slightly too easy difficulty curve though then you’re in for a treat! Out of Line boasts a fully hand drawn graphical style and it looks fantastic. Nerd Monkeys have created an aesthetic that really sells the world San lives in, making the player feel tiny and isolated. There were a few irritating moments where I couldn’t figure out if I was looking at scenery I could jump on and another moment when I thought I was trapped but it turned out that a wall in front of me was a foreground object and I could just walk behind it. Those few fumbles aside I found that the graphics alone were plenty to keep me engaged through the whole story. Nerd Monkeys really show that having a strong grasp of theme and going through all of the sweatwork to create a unique style can carry a small project on its back. I played on Switch, mostly in handheld mode, but I did check it out on a TV in docked mode, and the graphics and sound held up well in both modes. The entire ambience and atmosphere they’ve created goes a long way to filling in the gaps left in some of the gameplay.
The peaceful moments and cute aesthetics in the quieter parts of the game are used effectively to lull you into a false sense of security. From time to time The Claw will rear its ugly face to mess with your journey. Some of the scenes of its destruction can be quite bleak. You pass through 4 different biomes on your way through the game, solving the puzzles and occasionally asking yourself. “Did… Did I just watch that little dude get crushed to death?” Particularly at the start of the story when the Claw attacks and San’s (I’m going to say “Colleagues”) are being picked up off the ground or smashed with debis, it can be a bit jarring from the otherwise fairly cutesy graphics.
Nerd Monkeys have done a good job of introducing you to Out of Line in a way that respects your intelligence. For instance, there is no dialogue, either spoken or as endless text boxes. The tutorial and teaching is done through world design, with lightweight prompts. The button you’ll need to push to interact with a new object will float near that object the first time you see it and they don’t freeze the game to tell you how to jump or how to climb a ladder. Similarly, the story unfolds entirely without dumping exposition or endless cutscenes, you’re left to interpret what’s happening on your own. A niggle I did have in this regard were some collectable items, cubes, scattered throughout each map. They’re positioned as being significant to the story but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what they were supposed to represent. The game does seem to end a bit abruptly which perhaps explains that. I get the sense that Nerd Monkeys had planned to extend the final biome for a bit longer but ran out of development time.
The plot is either open to interpretation or it’s confusing and unfinished – giving the benefit of the doubt, the end credits dedicates the game to the developer’s late grandparents so you could speculate that some of the events are abstracts of grief or something similar. But there are still plenty of unanswered questions, such as, why are the Claw’s doing this? Why is everyone wearing a tank helmet? There’s a recurring tree which the cubes interact with that doesn’t explain itself and the ending doesn’t exactly wrap up the story or give insight on whether the protagonists have saved the day or not. It feels rushed. There are also some minor bugs too, which I’m surprised made it past playtesting. I got out of bounds in one puzzle because I was absolutely convinced my solution was correct. I was rewarded in my efforts when I fell through the game geometry and needed to reset the system to continue. I also somehow broke a puzzle which made progress impossible but since it was a puzzle I didn’t know if I was just failing to figure it out. A door wasn’t opening despite the puzzle being solved but after backing out to the title to reset, it was fine.
Those few dropped balls aside, it’s a tight experience and I managed to rattle through the whole game in about 4 hours. To my mind, short games are fine; they don’t overstay their welcome or bloat the play time out with needless grind or cutscenes, but if you’re absolutely set on tens or hundreds of hours of play time then this isn’t the game for you – in fact, I’d say it’s not even the right genre.
Nerd Monkeys have done an excellent job compacting a light puzzle platformer into a small space and painting it absolutely beautifully. You aren’t going to find a world beating new mechanic for puzzle platformers and you might have to crack your mind wide open to find the story but I’d say it’s a worthwhile pick up despite its few shortcomings.
In the interest of full disclosure, the publisher provided VGamingNews with a copy of the game in order to conduct this review.