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Released: 1990

Genre: Shoot-’em-up

Format reviewed: Arcade

Publisher: Toaplan

Developer: Toaplan

Submitted by: Mike Bevan

Video game nostalgia can be a little rose-tinted. Fondly remembered classics of the ‘charge-and-destroy’ genre such as Commando, Gunsmoke and Ikari Warriors haven’t aged well (although Commando still has to be recognised as a ground-breaker). Other games like Jackal and Mercs come off far better today. Outzone, like-wise, is still an incredibly playable game.

Outzone plays like a cross between Capcom’s Mercs and Toaplan’s own space-shooter Truxton, and as such is a fairly unique experience even today. Your task is to take command of one of two cyborg marines sent in to eradicate all the marauding alien scum from their homeworld – a region called the ‘Outzone’ – through 7 long and extremely challenging levels – complete with a full compliment of very tricky to defeat end-of-stage guardians.

Your marine has two basic weapons – a rapid fire laser which can be aimed in eight directions, and a green ‘spread-shot’ cannon which can only be fired upscreen. Weapons can be switched by picking up the ‘C’ icons littered about the landscape, and powered up by collecting the occasional ‘P’ icon. Players need to utilise weapons depending on the situation – for instance the eight-way laser is useful in the tight corridor sections where enemies can appear behind you, while the spread-shot is best for boss encounters. While two further weapons – a flame-thrower and a kind of rotating ball on a string that zips around your character taking out all bad guys – can occasionally be picked up with an ‘SP’ icon, they are rare. Occasionally you may find a shield-pickup which can protect you from one collision with enemy hardware. It doesn’t usually last long.

In the spirit of Toaplan shooters from the 80’s/early 90’s, Outzone is one tough cookie. Enemies come thick and fast from all directions and often overpower the player, especially at later stages or in one-player mode. Stages are best conquered with a mixture of all-out blasting and tactical sniping from behind ‘safe spots’ in the scenery – taking out key enemies and gun turrets before rushing frantically forwards in the hope of making it through to the end of level boss intact. To prevent players dawdling a continually decreasing ‘energy-meter’ is present which can only be recharged by finding ‘E’ pickups in the landscape, forcing you to keep moving. Levels range from open plains and alien installations to Gauntlet-style mazes and narrow walk-ways where you are in danger of falling a very long way indeed should you be unwary. The variety of different enemies and backgrounds in the game is impressive – from lowly alien grunts to organic craft, spaceships, trains, robots and some incredibly nasty bosses. A great arcade shooter that shamefully never got the home conversion it deserved.

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