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Out of Line first impressions: Studio Ghibli-inspired 2D platformer blends Inside with Ori and the Blind Forest

Out of Line
(Image credit: Nerd Monkeys)

The thing that immediately drew me to developer Nerd Monkeys’ upcoming game, Out of Line, is a tree. There’s nothing particularly special about the tree our main protagonist San quickly stumbles across (except for these bizarre floating cubes that have made it their home), but on closer inspection, you’ll notice subtle brushstrokes that bring the tree to life.

Out of Line’s entire environment is made up of these beautifully hand-drawn objects and landscapes, which impressed throughout my roughly 45-minute playthrough of the developer’s preview build. From the rigid metallic gears churning in a dreadful factory to the port-apocalyptic scenery overgrown with green foliage, Nerd Monkeys added tons of detail into the environments.

(Image credit: Nerd Monkeys)

What other classic side-scrolling puzzle platformers offer so much detail? Playdead’s Inside and one of the best games of 2020, Moon Studios’ Ori and the Will of the Wisps. Out of Line was inspired by these two stellar titles, and it shows. Oh, and there’s a dash of Studio Ghibli thrown in there for good measure, too. 

What is Out of Line? 

Put simply, Out of Line is a 2D side-scrolling puzzle platformer based in a hand-drawn 2D world. Gamers are put in the shoes of San, a child (who I’m convinced is a robot) who gets woken up by a mysterious floating golden cube.

It playfully leads San to the aforementioned tree housing other blue cubes, only to be disrupted by a freaky metallic arm oozing a purple aura. Before catching San, the gold cube transports the child to safety, and from there, players guide San through strange areas filled with various puzzles and more scary metal arms. 

(Image credit: Nerd Monkeys)

There’s no talking or text boxes filled with dialogue, just atmosphere, setting, and a few cheerful waves from San. In my first few minutes with the game, I got the general gist of San’s situation, but there’s still an air of mystery about who San is and why there are cubes floating all over the place.

According to Nerd Monkeys, there will be different friends our cheery protagonist will meet, some of which I encountered during my playthrough. They included cute Ghibli-like critters and, erm, other Sans. It will all lead to San being one step closer to uncovering one of life’s greatest lessons. 

Out of Line’s gameplay is sweet and simple 

The central mechanics of Out of Line revolve around San’s spear. A spear, yes, but not used in the general sense. Instead of using it as a weapon, the golden spear is effectively used to conquer different puzzles.

San picks it up very early on, and while I was scratching my head as to how to use it to cross a platform, I soon realized it can be used to stick to walls, which I could then use as a platform to climb over walls. This mechanic is the bread and butter of the platformer, and I loved the way San could spring from the spear to gain extra height. Simple, yet effective. 

(Image credit: Nerd Monkeys)

Even better, it uses the same mechanic as God of War’s Leviathan Axe — giving you the ability to throw and call it back. So far (as the trailer for Out of Line shows), I’ve thrown the spear to disrupt machinery so I didn’t get crushed, recalled it to turn off switches, and turned it into a lever to operate platforms. There’s no combat, but the spear is put to better use to avoid trouble instead of confronting it.

Puzzles are engaging, and require players to think on their feet if they don’t want to be taken by evil metal claws or fall to their doom. Luckily, I experienced fairly quick restarts, and checkpoints typically bring you back to what you were just doing. I didn’t die often, and I’m glad I didn’t have to redo certain actions I had already accomplished before slipping up.

There were a few head-scratching moments during my playthrough, but nothing too difficult. For example, there are more spears to play around with later on in the game, and these return to their original position after a certain amount of time. Puzzle platformers that see their otherwise simple game mechanics evolve into more complex are the ones to look out for, and I’m intrigued to see the different ways San’s spears are used further along in the story. 

The team behind Out of Line 

Nerd Monkeys, an indie studio based in Lisbon, Portugal, has an interesting backstory for Out of Line. According to the developers, the game was first a school project from Franciso Santos, who was later joined by João Genebra. It caught the attention of PlayStation and won a PlayStation Talents Award in 2017.

(Image credit: Nerd Monkeys)

Nerd Monkeys brought in the two, and the team started working on what is now Out of Line. As mentioned, the game is hand-drawn, with inspirations from the animation of Studio Ghibli films, painting movements like impressionism, and modern philosophy.

The game seems to wear its heart on its sleeve, too, as it also draws inspiration from other notable games like Limbo, Inside, and Ori and the Blind Forest. These are all hit indie titles, and from what I’ve played through so far, Out of Line could very well be next in line.

Outlook 

I’ve enjoyed my time so far with Nerd Monkey’s beautifully drawn Out of Line, though I’ve only played through the first 45 minutes or so. The game moves along swiftly, and the puzzles were engaging but not too complicated so I never lost interest in what I needed to do next.

Out of Line is expected to launch on PC via Steam and Nintendo Switch this summer, and on PS4 and Xbox One later in 2021. In the meantime, check out all the best PC games you can play right now.