Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
What is it: A sides-scrolling adventure platformer for all ages, with some challenging logic puzzles. Pros: Appealing Art Style; Clear Control Scheme; Challenging Puzzles; All-age appropriate Cons: Linear gameplay/low replayability. Relaxed pace will not appeal to all gamers.
At first glance, Out Of Line is a visually appealing sidescroller that is light on dialogue and heavy on platform jumping. Touting awards and runner-up recognition as far back as 2017, this newly released platformer hits the ground running in 2021 as it shows us why it was lauded even 4 years before landing in the hands of the public. Featuring beautiful landscapes and controls that are intuitive even to non-gamers (more on that later), Out Of Line introduces controls and concepts step by step in a purely visual way. The game is set in an overgrown, industrial-looking area, and players try to push onwards in traditional side-scrolling fashion. Trying to figure out how to get past the next piece of decayed machinery quickly draws the player in, and keeping track of how long you’ve been playing can be a challenge here.
When the opportunity to review Out Of Line came up, I was a bit hesitant. My history with platform games is checkered at best, and they certainly aren’t normally titles that I race to try. In this case, however, the game mentioned it was a runner-up for “Best Kids Game” at the 2017 Playstation Talents Awards, and I desperately hoped that this meant it was a game that my (aging) reflexes and superb hand-eye (un)coordination could tackle. I also had the perfect subject to test whether or not it was actually a “kids game” on – my six year old daughter was happily hunting zombies in Minecraft on the family’s Nintendo Switch as I made my decision to take on this review. What I found when I tried Out Of Line immediately struck me as something that as a parent I would have no issues letting my child play. Bold colors, straightforward controls, and extremely little of the ever-present digital violence that weaves through my PC game library made this a title I was happy to let a young child try.
The controls in Out Of Line begin with basics that are familiar to PC players of sidescrollers everywhere. A/D for left/right and W to jump are easy and universal enough that they barely merit a glance from experienced players. A tool option – in this case a yellow spear – is controlled by the mouse for aiming, throwing and retrieval, and becomes the player’s go-to item throughout the game. This spear ends up used as a lever to activate controls, tossed at buttons to activate them from a distance, thrown to break pieces of destructible terrain, or even used as a portable platform to jump on. In short, how you use this spear becomes the key to the various puzzles that Out of Line presents the player with.
Sitting my child at the keyboard put the intuitiveness and presentation of the control scheme to the test. Never having played a PC game before, these control conventions were entirely new to her. To the credit of the team at Nerd Monkeys, she picked them up quickly: the on-screen prompts are minimal and entirely without words, but they get the point across quickly and accurately in a way that should make IKEA furniture manuals jealous. The game gives two or three stages each time a new control or way to use the character’s spear is introduced, making us familiar with the concept before adding another layer. Importantly, the game also very rarely rushes the player – virtually every puzzle can be completed at the player’s own pace, without inexorably rising lava or hordes of monsters to crank up the pressure and frustration.
Saying that a six-year-old can learn the game’s controls does not mean it is without its challenges for older players, however. Out Of Line uses its industrial aesthetic to good effect, pushing players to find the right combinations and timings for gears, platforms, barricades and destructible terrain to surpass each puzzle. In one notable puzzle, the player has to move up and down two different elevator shafts toggling machinery to create a particular effect, with the puzzle itself being too large to fit on a single screen and the player having to follow cables and other visual cues to keep things straight. Indeed, these puzzles can be hard enough when first encountered that Out Of Line’s tendency to not use time limits to increase the stress level is very appreciated. Being able to sit back and observe how different controls affect the puzzle is another great point towards it being suited for all ages.
To break the loneliness of being the only thing moving in the landscape, Nerd Monkeys have added a variety of non-player characters in. Some will be trying to overcome their own challenges in the foreground or background as you play, and others will directly affect (and be affected by) what you do. Most often, these characters are helpful, opening doors that require multiple triggers to be hit, or activating machinery you can’t reach. Overall, it gives you a sense that you aren’t alone, and seeing them running around helps bring the whole environment to life. This is one point where the complete lack of dialogue struggles a bit, as you never really get to know much more about these other characters beyond the actions you see them perform. Small clues in the background (paintings, carefully added clutter, etc.) hint at possible relationships between them, but it is left to the player to notice and interpret these as they run past.
Overall, Out Of Line lives up to the promise shown in its trailers, and is a nice light addition to one’s game library. As a relatively linear side-scroller I wouldn’t count on extremely high replayability, but endless replays are not really the expectation for this style of game. With no real combat, Out Of Line relies heavily on its well-designed puzzle levels to engage the player, but manages to do this without feeling repetitive or punishing. In the end, if you’re looking for something that gets your adrenaline up, give this a pass. If you’re looking for fun you can share with anyone in the family, or a relaxing end to a stressful day, Out Of Line is an excellent choice, and definitely worth your support.Score: 8.5 / 10