In my first five minutes with Outernauts, I’d chosen a colorful little beast to roam alongside me, battled a pretentious jerk with an anime haircut, and caught my very own whatchamacallit after weakening its defenses and tossing some kind of orb at it. Sound familiar?
There’s no denying that Outernauts oozes with that distinctive Pokémon flavor. But even when stepping into such well-tread territory, veteran developer Insomniac Studios adds enough clever tweaks and flashy style to make Outernauts a game worth checking out regardless of your familiarity with Nintendo’s handheld darling. After all, Insomniac specializes in making legitimately substantive additions to genres that are otherwise antiquated or dominated by one franchise: Ratcher & Clank endures even as troves of 3D platformers wither in the inexorable shadow of Mario, while Resistance marched through a highly respected trilogy even as Halo and Call of Duty swept up so much of the FPS market.
Iterative though it may be, endlessly comparing Outernauts to games from the ’90s is a disservice. More instructive, perhaps, would be a contrast from the games it directly competes with. For the average Facebooker, Outernauts offers a refreshing relief from the stale sort of “click until you see coins” mechanics that so many social games rely on. The game expects players to manage their monsters properly, select moves wisely and ensure that their companions are properly leveled up. Battles can be legitimately tough, but they’re consistently rewarding to win. Of course, there’s an option to recover health and boost stats by paying hard currency — yes, it’s a Facebook game — but even moderately savvy players should be fine without it.
On top of all that, I daresay that Outernauts even steals Pokémon’s thunder in a handful of ways. The game is ironically better-suited for short bursts of playtime than the handheld Pokémon games, and it moves a lot faster. You won’t need to grind, there aren’t random encounters, and your monsters level up after only a few battles. It’s a flashy and accessible take on Pokémon that’s going after an audience who doesn’t want to deal with the hassle, cost or stigma of carrying a DS and a pocketful of cartridges on the bus. It’s not overwhelmingly innovative, but it’s undeniably wise.
You can play Outernauts now at its Facebook page.
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