Out of Line made me question the power of visuals within video games. The puzzle-platformer, developed by Nerd Monkeys, immediately hooked me with its hand-drawn art style, reeling me in with each stunning environment I came across. While its artistic merit kept me playing, this strength doesn’t do enough to suppress the simplicity of its gameplay loop. This tradeoff makes for an uneven game that never entirely amounts to its true potential, opting instead to distract the player with the elements it excels in.
It doesn’t take long to come to terms with how Out of Line’s gameplay works. You play as San, solving environmental puzzles using a spear, the tool which most of the gameplay revolves around. This tool has a variety of uses, which kept me engaged and intrigued as I developed an understanding of its mechanics. Whether it’s for platforming use, flipping levers, grinding gears to a halt, or a variety of other benefits, I never found it to be unresponsive in puzzle-solving. While it’s clear the puzzle design revolved around the spear, I found it frustrating the game never introduced more items to my puzzle-solving tool kit. I’m the first to appreciate simplicity in a game’s mechanics, but the spear grew stale even within the game’s short run-time.
Instead, new mechanics appeared as additions to the environment. Consumable spears that disappeared after a certain amount of time were among the most prominent inclusions, changing the gameplay loop drastically. By using multiple spears in a puzzle, I had to rethink my strategies, giving my brain a new challenge in mechanics. It was a welcome change of pace amongst a consciously simple game. Other introductions weren’t as memorable, such as bugs you had to lead around or pipes you had to adjust. These felt much more like tired puzzle game tropes I had seen elsewhere, never reflecting the authenticity or tangibility presented by the spear. Other attempts at breaking the mold are present, such as the game’s collectible blue cubes. However, the game’s linearity contradicts collectibles, which I usually found just by following the game’s primary path. The controls found more success in preventing me from progressing than the puzzles did at times. Putting simplicity over everything prevented me from having the necessary command to progress. Being unable to reset consumable spears meant waiting long periods for them when it could be bound to a button. While it is a minor detail, I found it frustrating during my puzzle-solving nonetheless.
The game drives you forward with a story told exclusively through visuals and music. While this has proven to work in concept by similar games such as Limbo, it ultimately came off as frustrating and unclear here. The narrative is entirely free of voice acting or text, resulting in a story that’s no more than a vague string of events. These events have a pulse, displaying signs of heart and emotion, but without necessary continuity or explanation, it only amounts to small moments within this journey that glimmer. Creative characters become companions to your character throughout the game. Still, they lack the emotional connection I found myself anticipating. With such beautiful visuals and an excellent atmosphere, it’s frustrating that the narrative never capitalizes on its potential. When the camera pulls out, and you’re presented with a beautiful environment, complimented by great music, it becomes clear that the visuals are genuinely the game’s purpose. The game flaunts its ability to awe, and it truly deserves to.
Out of Line’s belief in simplicity gives rise to both its best and worst qualities. The game’s easy difficulty and linear trajectory make gameplay a breeze, offering the art direction center stage. Lasting at around three hours, it can gently settle as a fun and functional adventure, one that will show its irritating flaws the more you think about it. Just don’t be surprised when its beautiful world begs you to wonder what could’ve been if the rest of the game had done its art style justice.