Friday, January 15, 2010

Clueless Gaijin Gaming: Out Live

It's far a Future on PLANET! as we take a Japanese-impaired look at Out Live, published by Sunsoft in 1989 for the PC Engine.

There's quite a bit of Japanese text involved in this title, but I was able to make out the basics without much trouble.  Out Live is an RPG set in a futuristic sci-fi environment -- the player is housed in a warrior mech, armed to the teeth, and sent out to battle evil (one presumes alien) robots in a 3-D maze environment.

Per usual, we can visit shops outside of the maze to acquire items for healing and transportation:

We can power up our mech's weapons and armor, for a price:

And we can venture into the colorfully lit tunnels to face the biomechanical nasties:


Inside the dungeons, the interface is simple -- the player can navigate forward and backward, turn left and right, and bring up a menu to use items, check status, and get compass bearings:


But that's about the extent of it -- the action consists of running around the dungeon space maze, destroying monsters robots, gaining experience and leveling up, with periodic trips out of the maze to shop and maintain equipment.

The dungeon-crawling presentation is technically impressive -- the tunnels scroll very smoothly in 3-D, and there's a neat sprite-scaling routine used to zoom in for an initial sizing-up when enemies are encountered.  And the background music is quite good by PC Engine chiptune standards, with some quality samples.

But Out Live feels seriously handicapped by its medium -- it's a HuCard-based title, not a CD game, and it appears that the storage space is largely consumed by the 3-D maze graphics.  There isn't much room left for a story, and precious little variety in the environment -- the colors change as we enter different sections of the dungeon, but every part of the map essentially looks the same.  And doors are depicted with a legend reading [DOOR] when one is directly in front of us -- we can't see the doors in any detail, and can't see them at all from the side or from a distance.  There's no automapping provided, so there's some old-fashioned fun and tension to be had in mapping out the maze by hand on graph paper, but that doesn't necessarily make for a compelling gameplay experience in 2010.

Out Live is one of those games that has simply had its day -- there was a time in my youth when wandering the maze, mapping it out in detail and slowly beefing up my mech would have been a fun and inexpensive way to spend hours of my gaming time.  At my age, though, this brief sampling is enough to remind me why it's a good thing technology moves on once in a while.  Great retro games live on; weak retro games just get weaker by the year.

If a really old-school dungeon crawl is just what you have in mind, I'd really recommend Double Dungeons over this one, and point you toward Dungeon Master or Eye of the Beholder for a quality experience that hasn't aged so poorly.  But if you insist, you can purchase Out Live (if it's in stock) via this affiliate link.

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