Recently, the formerly uptight Smithsonian American Art Museum wrapped up the fan voting portion of next year's sure-to-be-awesome Art of Videogames exhibit -- which, by the way, won't be curated by Roger Ebert.
Tons of worthy games will be featured. I'd officially like to ask for a provisional ballot, so I can start a write-in campaign for Outland.
Outland is the latest in a series of groundbreaking and artistic indie platform-puzzlers that have cropped up on Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network in the last year or so. Its shadowy visuals and enemies will remind you of last year's creepy Limbo, while the clever switch-the-powers gameplay mechanic calls up images of Trine. Whatever game it reminds you of -- feel free to toss in Okami, Ikaruga and Shadow of the Colossus in there -- Outland is one game your eyes won't forget soon.
The story's metaphysical in nature: Our hero is caught between an eons-long struggle between two sister-deities that now threatens to destroy the earth. The game's gorgeous art style looks like a layered art project come to life -- meteors plummet from the sky in the distant layered background, platforms and colored bursts of deadly light drift by in the middle ground, while the stark black of the hero, the platforms and the creepy-crawly enemies that stalk him occupy the foreground.
Eventually, your run-and-jump repertoire expands to include several combat abilities, the most important of which is unleashing the spirit powers of dark (red) and light (blue). That's where the mind-bending begins. In increasingly difficult puzzle situations, you'll have to tap your bumper trigger to switch back and forth between the colored spirits, sometimes faster than a rubber band that's just been stretched and snapped.
You may have to turn blue to avoid taking damage from a sunstreak swirl of blue bullets, then quickly flip to red to jump on a moving platform, then back to blue to swipe your sword at a red spider or dragon closing in for the kill. Outland rewards -- better make that demands -- lightning-quick thinking, and the color mechanics are especially key to Outland's handful of boss battles.
The game's control scheme is tight -- occasionally too tight. Your hero can (and must) make Olympic-sized horizontal leaps to navigate some of the sliver-sized platforms, but when he lands, he tends to skid like he's sliding into second base at Yankee Stadium. Your thumb-jerk reaction will be to jerk the controller in the opposite direction to avoid a deadly fall, sliding him right off the other side of the platform. Good thing there are lots of checkpoints.