Monday, December 3, 2012

Impressions: Out of this World (SNES)

Received: November 13th, 2012 / Written: December 1st-3rd, 2012
Out of this World (aka Another World)
Year: 1992 | Developed by: Delphine Software | Published by: Interplay

Enter our hero, Eric Chahi Lester
I recall having heard of this game for the first time several years ago, and I heard rather nice and interesting things about it; I even saw one gameplay video on YouTube, and needless to say I was taken aback.  This was a '90s video game??  I always find myself amazed whenever I watch a gameplay video or experience a video game from the early '90s which exceeds my expectations in terms of visuals.  But I'm getting way ahead of myself; my bad.  =(

Swim through perilous underwater caves
Out of this World, or Another World as it's known in native Europe, was a game that was originally made for the somewhat obscure (I think) Amiga console back in 1991 by a man named Eric Chahi who worked for the now defunct French video game company Delphine Software.  It was quite revolutionary and successful for its time, and some even still consider it to be one of the greatest video games in history.  In fact, it was so successful that it wound up being released for many consoles afterwards; like the MegaDrive/Genesis, the über expensive during its initial run 3DO, and even the version of this game that I bought a few weeks ago, the SNES.  What's pretty fascinating is that versions of it are still being made today, for systems like the Android and the iOS.  And while I was interested in the game before buying it, I for some reason didn't think of trying it.  There was something that was holding me back, but I don't know what (maybe it was the initial fear that it would have more challenge than I could handle).  When I saw a copy of it at 3D Games, I knew I had to try it, I knew that I wanted an opportunity to try it, and I knew that I simply had to play it.  So what's all the hoopla surrounding this game about, and is Out of this World as good as the hype would lead you to believe?  Well, kick up your feet, sit back, and relax as we find out, for I'm going to talk about it today!  =)  I'm only going to discuss about the SNES version, since it's the only version I played, so no comparisons will be made.

Let's get outta here!!
It was a dark and stormy night in 1997 (at least that's the copyright information it gave in the intro sequence's computer monitor) when the main protagonist, a redhead scientist named Lester Knight Chaykin, arrives on the scene via his Ferrari.  It's there that he goes underground to his laboratory to conduct a particle accelerator experiment in the middle of said storm.   ...why, exactly?  <=/  Actually, from what I gathered, he's doing it so he can repeat what took place when the universe as a whole was born.  Again, ...why?  <=\  Maybe it's because I don't have the manual, but I'm not 100% certain about what his intentions are.  Anyway, enough questionable details, he begins the experiment, and all seems well at first, until a freakstorm strikes down, interrupting the process, causing an explosion, ending up killing Lester in the process.  What a cruel fate!!  And he was so young, too!  D'=  Why???  Let us all have a moment of silence, and remember this poor individual fondly!  [insert either Sarah McLachlan's "I Will Remember You" or the well-known 1997 Titanic movie theme here]
...
Actually, what really happens is that it opens up a big blackhole, transporting Lester to a desolate alien planet filled with countless dangers.  It's there that he gets captured by not so friendly humanoid aliens, proving that he has found himself in a hostile environment.  He wakes up in a cage alongside an alien who's different from the others, and is actually good.  He becomes a buddy to Lester, so he calls him "Buddy"... okay!  All throughout they will team up together, help each other, try to escape the negligent forces, and mostly important of all, survive!  Will they succeed?  Will they reach their goal?  Will Lester ever return to his home planet somehow?  Well,... will he??  =<
Run, Lester, run!

Out of this World is an action/platformer in the same vein as the classic Prince of Persia in that there's always something that will try to stop you in your tracks, there are puzzles that need to be solved in order to get past a certain obstacle or area, it's password-driven, and it's also one of those games where proper timing means everything.  Only things that set the two apart are that there is no time limit and time periods are different; otherwise, it's a whole new game entirely!  Lester controls pretty smoothly, and he's got a variety of actions throughout the course of the adventure.  Mostly you can walk, run, crouch, jump, and even attack; from the second area onward you'll be carrying a deadly blaster at your disposal.  Regular shots will come out if you press or tap the attack button, but if you hold the button for a short period then you'll create a barrier that will temporarily shield you from enemy fire; hold down the gun button long enough and you'll see that the blasting power will become bigger, so let go to amass a big blast, handy to take down sturdy thin walls and enemy barriers among other things.  The drawback to the blaster is that fire is not unlimited, and creating a big blast will drain the gun really quickly in the process, so only blast that big an amount when you really have to.  The good thing is that there are a few rooms where you can fully recharge your blaster whenever you wish; good thing.  =)  There is also one moment where Lester must swim down the cave in order to get past an obstacle.  The adventure is divided into different portions, and luckily any time you lose a life you're given the password for it.  The nice thing about the passwords for this game are that they are brief and to the point, with just four characters.  Thank God they're not long or unnecesseraily complicated like in most games that do use the password system (but that's just a personal pet peeve of mine).  One more thing: I love the way there's constant lightning during the title and when there's the Star Wars-like prelude describing the story, as it's just awesome!  =)

And so, Lester's adventure has just begun...
The visual style this game displays is really remarkable, to be quite honest, and I think they're pretty unique.  No one's seen anything like it prior to Out of this World's release.  What's neat is how the game looks like it was all painted and detailed with different shades and hues of purples, grays, blacks, and blues, for the most part (I deeply apologize to my camera if its singular eye was bleeding because it was seeing all blue in certain parts).  It's an amazing atmospheric-looking planet, with expositions such as prison cells, caves, arenas, places with stained glass windows, and more.  I absolutely love the way they are designed, especially when taking into account that there is so much detail, while at the same time retaining the largely cold color look.  This is also one of those games where it largely doesn't scroll but instead transitions from one screen to the next, and it's not so bad.  Some of the most standout visuals with Out of this World are the fully animated cutscenes, and boy are they wonderful to look at!  =)  The opening cutscene in particular looks sweet, where it starts off with a car being driven to the lab, and then we see a shot of Lester entering the room from an elevator walking towards the screen only to view him from the backside, and then he enters the pass code (with very detailed shaded hands), and the rest of the scene looks very outstanding, too.  You know, for a game that supposedly takes place during the '90s, the technology sure looks advanced and ahead of its time, especially Lester's holographic computer!!  WOW!!!  =D  What was amazing about the scene was the life-like motion of the character thanks to the famed rotoscoping technique used in animated movies and video games for decades.  It's not just in that scene where Lester moves fluidly, but he moves so smoothly in the game as well.  Even though it looks rather pixellated and has aged a lot by today's standards, it's still quite a miraculous technical achievement for its time.  The enemies look and animated neatly, too, and some of the death cutscenes are nicely done, if not a little harsh at times.

Ah, the infamous bathhouse scene, as seen on
the Super Nintendo!
In regards to sound, it's also great.  The original Amiga version was solely made by Eric Chahi, with the exception of another in the sound department: Jean-François Freitas.  I looked up that Chahi did not want the music for the part where we're first introduced to Lester to be altered, and demanded Interplay to keep it intact.  With the help of Delphine, it remained untouched.  Every other background music for this SNES adaptation was done by Charles Deenen (who also worked on the music for the sadly overlooked action/puzzler The Lost Vikings).  Freitas' intro music is moody and cool, though honestly I felt that Deenen's work really helps to add some atmosphere and emotion to it.  Maybe a little different in style, sure, but it works in its own way.  For some sequences it's all quiet, but there are moments when it might start playing music befitting the situation; like the theme that plays whenever you're in danger from enemy forces, or the one where Lester is in a cave or claustrophobic area.  The rest are nice, too, especially the triumphant ending suite.  The sound effects are cool, like the blaster sound and whenever some of the enemy alien humanoids speak.

In a cage with the good alien "Buddy"
Lester's adventure is a pretty hard game, though it's not exactly as hard as I once thought it was going to be before I experienced it.  Like other games from its ilk, it's one of those video games where obstacles and puzzles are abound.  I said before that timing is everything, because it's necessary in order to continue your progress and move forward.  You'll have to be careful how much of the blaster's firepower you use, and you need to be careful not to overexert it either, since refill rooms are relatively scarce.  There is even one sequence where you must time your shot precisely or be forced to start the portion over again.  This is also one of those big survival quests, since the dangers Lester has to absolutely avoid is being mauled by a big creature, being stabbed by a poisonous slugworm(?), being devoured alive by a volatile venus fly trap(?), drowning underwater, being impaled, being vaporized by enemy fire, and falling down several dozen feet, among others.  The amount of challenge is good, and I like it, even though there were a few moments that left me stumped and I was resorted to look at a guide a few times.  But still the challenge is good, and it's quite an exhilirating time when you're trying to evade enemy fire all round the screen and trying to outrun a flood.

Out of this World at the end of the day was a rather fascinating experience.  You know how there are arthouse movies?  Well this is something I consider an arthouse game.  It's one of those adventures that is simply engaging for so many reasons, and you always want to know what's going to happen next.  The visuals, though dated, look incredible and unique, especially with the rotoscoping and the animated cutscenes, which easily steal the show.  The gamepaly is good, the challenge level is commendable, and the music really sets the mood and atmosphere.  There's no dialogue throughout the adventure, but that's all right, since all the action and exposition is enough to tell a good narrative.  The areas in this game amaze me, and what I find impressive is how all the while you're playing you're not just looking at the alien planet, you are in the alien planet.  It succeeds as a submersive adventure because of that, and I think that may have been Chahi's intent while making it.  It's amazing that it took him two years to create it mostly by himself, and honestly that's remarkable.  Obviously the SNES version was developed by a different group, I looked up that it got censored (of course), and I noticed some inconsistent frame rate during certain screens while playing it (not that it detracts from the fun too much).  It's also a rather short game, but while it lasts it's really fun (especially with all the trial and error), and I'm glad I got to play it.  Out of this World concludes on an open note, and it works because it will leave you guessing.  Years later, Interplay tried to make a continuation to Lester's flight on the Sega CD called Heart of the Alien, except this time you would take control of "Buddy"; I looked up that Eric Chahi had no involvement in it whatsoever, let alone did not give approval.  Turns out the game bombed badly, and nearly everyone that played it, Chahi included (who stated that he wanted to see the same game except through the alien's perspective), absolutely hated it.  Yikes!  I saw some clips from YouTube, and even having not played it myself, I did not feel that this supposed "sequel" was on par with Out of this World.  But still, Chahi's classic is ... well, a classic!  =)  Well worth hunting down!
My Impressions: 8.0
Thank you for reading, please leave a comment!  =)
P.S.: No, the aspect ratio of this SNES version is not the equivalent of that of a MegaDrive/Genesis game (which is usually rectangular).  There are borders all around the game, and I didn't feel they were necessary to keep when making these screenshots, which is why you don't see them as square-shaped like in most SNES screenshots (if you care about these techincal details, that is).
P.S. 2: The visual style from this game inspires me somewhat.  =)
P.S. 3: By the way, doesn't Lester look a little like the game creator?  I think so!  Then again, Chahi did record himself in order to make Lester's rotoscoping technique possible, so I suppose that's why.
P.S. 4: Speaking of Eric Chahi: remember the cult PlayStation One/PC classic Heart of Darkness?  Yeah, he was involved in that CD-based game as well.  ...  I need to play catch up with that game!  =(
P.S. 5: This cinematic video game experience was so good that I'm ready to try another one.  Bring on Flashback=)

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