Out of This World (SNES / 3DO)

September 28, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Out of This World - Title Screen (SNES)Out of This World - Tentacles (3DO)Out of This World - Alien Encounter (3DO)

Out of This World was a landmark game when it came out in 1991.  By attempting to bridge the gap between cinema and games, it pushed the medium in new directions, but at the same time, it succumbed to what’s probably the industry’s biggest insecurity — the fact that it’s not film.  How many games have attempted to be “cinematic” throughout the years?  And how many have truly succeeded?  Were all those FMV games in the early days of the CD format really better because they were movie-like?  Is Metal Gear Solid the pinnacle of gaming because of Hideo Kojima’s obvious desire to be a director, rather than a game producer?  How many “cinematic” games are actually made better by the fact that they’re movie-like?  Maybe a more relevant question might be, “do games even need to be cinematic?”

Regardless of the relationship between movies and games, film’s influence in Out of This World is obvious.  But instead of taking the obvious route and filling the game with FMV and D-list actors, Out of This World is a little more subtle.  Instead of being a playable movie, it simply takes many of the themes of cinema and applies them to games — story, the creation of tension, attachment to characters, action, a complementary soundtrack, and so on.  All of these were groundbreaking for the time, and as a result, Out of This World holds a special place in gaming history for many people.

But calling it a “groundbreaking” or “watershed” or “landmark” game doesn’t necessarily tell you what really matters — does it stand the test of time?  That’s a difficult one to answer.  Taken in context of the time it came out, it’s fantastic.  But 18 years later, does it still hold its own?  Frankly, it’s a tough call.  To be sure, I like Out of This World.  I think it’s a very interesting game and well worth a play-through.  But at the same time, it’s definitely showing its age and its flaws are a little more apparent than they may have once been.

Let’s set the stage for the uninitiated, though.  Out of This World is a side-scrolling adventure game that plays along the lines of Prince of Persia.  You control as Lester Chaykin, a physicist that is sucked into Another World (pun intended) when one of his experiments goes awry.  You have to traverse gorgeously animated alien landscapes, avoiding dangerous environs and ill-tempered extra-terrestrials in an attempt to free yourself from enslavement.  Along the way, you’ll solve puzzles, shoot a few enemies, make a friend, and never say a word.  In fact, the entire plot is conveyed in silence, but for a few grunts and the occasional unintelligible alien chatter.  The mood is beautifully set by the background music and the complete lack of any HUD means there’s very little to break the scene. 

In short, it wholly succeeds in being “cinematic,” and this aspect holds up very well.  What doesn’t hold up as well is the basic gameplay.  Back when being cinematic was a groundbreaking matter, I imagine game players were able to overlook other matters — primarily, the stodgy controls and trial-and-error gameplay.  Today, that’s harder to do.  As I played through the game, I found myself dying over and over as a result of stiff controls and obtuse puzzles.  It’s just not that much fun to replay a section five times when I know exactly what I need to do, but can’t accomplish because my timing is just a little off.  That might work in an action game where precision is key, but it just doesn’t work in a game like this, where you gain the most satisfaction through solving puzzles.

I don’t want to sound too harsh.  I enjoyed my time with Out of This World.  But despite its short length, I was definitely ready for it to be over by the time it was.  It’s a must-play if you’re interested in the history of the game industry, and I would even recommend it if you think you have the patience to work through its trial-and-error gameplay.  But I can’t give it a complete recommendation, as it’s just a little too frustrating in a day and age where its presentation isn’t as distractingly impressive.

Final Thoughts: I played through both the SNES and 3DO versions of the game at the same time, so my thoughts on the two individual versions are below.  They’re virtually identical in terms of gameplay, but some technical differences set the two apart.  Overall, I’d recommend the 3DO version for its smoother gameplay.  If I play different versions of the game, I will continue to add to this list to give my recommendation on the best version.

SNES Version: The SNES versions stays true to the original in its presentation and graphics, but gameplay is especially slow and plodding.  The polygonal (though still 2D) graphics really stress the system out, and on top of all that, the game runs in a low resolution mode that leaves a significant portion of the screen unused.  You might call it a “cinematic” letterboxed presentation if not for the fact it was obviously done for technical reasons and not stylistic ones.  Oh, and there are loading times.  On a cartridge game!

3DO Version: The 3DO version runs much more smoothly than the SNES version, which actually eliminates some (but not all) of the gripes I have about the unresponsive controls.  It also runs in higher-res and nearly full screen with completely redone backgrounds and a CD-based soundtrack.  Whether the backgrounds are an improvement, though, is up to you.  Foreground objects like characters don’t blend well with the background, leading to a jarring, disconnected feeling in some places.  In other places, it’s absolutely gorgeous.  Faster loading times than the SNES version, to boot.

Out of This World - Caged (3DO)Out of This World - The Caverns (SNES)Out of This World - Stained Glass (SNES)

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About Tim
My name is Tim. I live in Madison, WI. I'm a retro gamer.

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