Out of this World (Another World in Europe, Outer World in Japan) holds a unique place among games in the SNES library. Few designers are as highly revered for technical achievements and emotive storytelling as French designer Eric Chahi. Released on the SNES in the high-score era of video games (1991), the game instead made its mark with art. Rotoscoping animation and bitmapped images were some of Chahi’s achievements on the technical end, and they are matched beautifully with Jean-Francois Freitas’ music.
Out of this World features a lonely physicist who mistakenly transports himself to another dimension, where he remains throughout the game. In the alternate world, Lester Night Shakyn encounters dangerous beasts, plants, and humanoid natives. One of the natives (whom Interplay dubbed “Buddy”) befriends Lester after they break out of a cage in an underground mine, and their paths cross several times throughout his adventure. Lester must use teamwork, as well as his best gun-fighting and puzzle-solving skills to make it out alive.
While the storyline is minimalist, it is presented in an emotionally cinematic way. From the opening sequence we get a sense that Lester has a devil-may-care, yet intelligent air about him, and that he is a loner. Thus encountering an ally in the hanging cage draws from the gamer emotions of hope and mystery. There is alien voice acting with no subtitles, and the music is quiet and mysterious, but picks up in intensity when Lester nears danger. At one point Lester looks through a window and we’re treated to a 1st person, expansive vantage point. It’s clear the creator was more interested in cultivating an in-the-moment atmosphere, not a high-paced one focused on accumulating points.
Out of this World is externally an action and adventure platformer. Lester moves left, right or crouches in accordance to the d-pad. Holding Y with direction makes him run, and allows him to long jump when pressing B. When equipped, tapping A shoots his laser gun. Firmly pressing A sets a shield, and holding it for several seconds powers his shot to break through walls or destroy shields cast by attacking natives. Y performs all the gun functions as well, which is unfortunate as it is easy to draw when wishing to run, and vice versa. X performs no function, yet holding the left trigger after pressing select allows the player to input a code for a different level.
The controls for Out of this World seem at times unforgiving. Lester must be extremely precise with his jumping or his leg may be bitten off by a small sarlac-like organism. He can stay under water for only so long (unspecified) or he’ll drown. And he must make sure to open fire before a native or he’ll be toast, literally, with one shot. Whereas it may be accurately sci-fi for Lester to be navigating such a dangerous environment, the lag which occurs during action sequences is downright frustrating. Instead of taking a couple seconds to charge his gun it can take five. The lag affects timing, which isn’t cool because the platforming elements rely on consistency.
The story arc is very simple, but the level design is diverse enough to be extremely satisfying. Level length varies widely, and at times is ambiguous because they are generally completed unannounced. The gamer is given a four letter code for each level, but only when Lester dies, which thankfully he is allowed to do as often as it takes. Level content varies widely as well. Whereas Lester is chiefly platforming and puzzle-solving, one level consists of rolling in a pipe with the threat of poisonous gas, in another he is swimming, and in yet another a mini-game has Lester attempting to command the eject button on his escape vehicle.
Advancing from one level to the next is achieved through difficult but enjoyable puzzle-solving. Every mistake is met with a gruesome death that is at first Pavlovian, but the gamer soon becomes numbed as his lives are infinite. Sometimes Lester appears to have three possible routes, but only by performing actions in the right order can he advance. Occasionally sure-handed gun fighting is in order, but just as often Lester must pay attention to the detail of his environment. The effectiveness of this trial-and-error method stems from the necessity of the gamer to explore this other world along with Lester. The concept of a highly interactive environment is introduced in the very first level, when Lester must swing on a vine past an attacking beast to evade it.
There is a successor to Out of this World, but only in the technical sense. Eric Chahi had literally nothing to do with the creation of Heart of an Alien, released only on Sega CD, and fans of Out of this World largely shun it for that fact. Many mistake the sci-fi platformer Flashback to be a sequel, because of its relatable protagonist navigation and cut-away scenes, but the similarities end there. Games like Flashback (also made by Delphine) may be good games in themselves, but lack the artistic beauty and emotional depth that Out of this World shows in spades. For good reason, Out of this World celebrated successful 15th and 20th anniversaries. The lack of a proper sequel gives the original game even more mystique, and makes it even more precious.
So which do you prefer, style points or a lasting impression? With Out of this World, you can have both. Chahi came from a time when indie games had a chance of making a name for themselves. His own emotional involvement in the game’s creation is clearly evident, making the connection with the gamer something special. The only obstruction from perfection is a lag factor that simply doesn’t fly in the current gaming culture. Yet even with all the resources of game developers today, they are hard pressed to come up with a game like Out of this World. For that reason I recommend it to gamers of every genre.
Four out of Five Stars
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