As is often the case with virtual reality, the best game I tried at Gamescom 2023 wasn't one in a big corporate booth or meeting room, but a small indie game called Outta Hand that I demoed in a hallway.
The hallway demo has become somewhat of a rite of passage for VR enthusiasts and developers alike. And while this certainly wasn't my first hallway demo, it was one of my most recent favorites – even though I was flaying my arms wildly for any Gamescom attended to see.
Outta Hand, featured in our recent Upload VR Summer Showcase, is a VR action platformer coming to Quest later this month (the specific date is still TBC). Part-Gorilla Tag, part-Crash Bandicoot, it takes the fundamentals of the movement system that the former made popular and evolves it even further with some new mechanics added into the mix.
VR platformers are having a bit of moment lately. As I spoke about with in my Max Mustard hands-on, there's two strains of the genre – Max Mustard falls into the Astro Bot-style first/third person hybrid, where you look down onto a character that you controller from above. Gorilla Tag is the title that popularized the newer first-person version of the genre, where you inhabit a character in full immersive first-person and use your arms to push and propel yourself around an environment via jumps and leaps.
However, Gorilla Tag wasn't first and foremost a platformer, but more like a multiplayer version of tag in VR that used those platforming movement mechanics. No More Rainbows changed that, taking a similar arm-based movement system and developing a true platformer experience around it. With Outta Hand, developers Capricia Productions are evolving the genre once again. Based off what I've tried so far, this new evolution is equally, if not more, engaging, with its own unique spin.
In Outta Hand, you play as a round creature that looks kind of like Mike Wazowski if he was blue, had two eyes, no legs and very long arms. You begin your journey in a facility owned by a Doctor Neo Cortox-like overlord called Dr Vendelboom. Locked inside a glass container, you move along a conveyer belt alongside other Wazowski-likes until you reach a scanner that deems your cerebral functions to be "above allowed parameters," marking you for termination. You soon escape your container, avoid termination and set out on a platforming adventure to escape the facility.
Both Gorilla Tag and No More Rainbows have an essential rigidity to their movement systems – the latter is more loose, for sure, but jumping in both games feels like a very specific, tight and defined arc of movement. That gives it a sense of precision and skill, allowing you to get a feel for the movement and improve as you go along.
Outta Hand doesn't throw this out the window – it's definitely still precise and you will get a feel for things, improving as you play – but it also makes the leaping movements feel a little more... spring-y. It feels more free, allowing you to jump much further distances while still keeping the required parameters to replicate specific, precise movements when needed. You'll soon find yourself flinging between platforms, across gaps, between smashing walls and around deadly spinning cogs.
Even in just the opening sections of the game, the obstacbles in Outta Hand were all incredibly varied and never quite the same. That's another key point of difference between Outta Hand and other similar platformers – Capricia Productions takes a Mario-like approach to spoon-feeding you new challenges and teaching additional mechanics gradually, adding layers of depth to the gameplay bit by bit.
One of these is the ability to flap your hands at your side like wings, which gives you a little mid-air boost jump. You can use this in a load of different ways, such as to course-correct when you leap too far or to get a last little boost for a jump that's a bit short of your target. You can chain multiple flaps together, but a depletable meter will prevent you from abusing the mechanic.
There's also variations on how you jump – a two-handed push directly onto the floor will spring you more upwards than forwards, which can be combined with the flapping for a new kind of short hop.
And then there's the punching. This is where Outta Hand really starts to come into its own – and lives up to its name. You can press your controller's grip buttons to enlarge your fists Ms Marvel-style, which can then be used in both combat and platforming maneuvers.
When mid-air, punching down on your landing spot – or even a mid-air enemy – will give you a huge boost back upwards. There's also some fan-like contraptions to be found floating in mid-air that can be punched through, launching you in a pre-determined direction.
In between platforming sections – or sometimes in the middle of them – you'll also encounter Dr Vendelboom employees, such as security bots, that aren't so happy with your escape plans. In these sections, the game switches gears once again, providing refreshing portions of combat.
Your fists have a fairly generous auto-aim, with targets automatically appearing on enemies as you point towards them. However, despite the way your arms comically extend out from your body when punching, your range is relatively short compared to the areas you'll be navigating. This means you have to use your platforming skills to leap around enemies, simultaneously throwing out punches and evading their attacks as you fling by. Some enemies engage in melee combat or explode when in close proximity, while others will shoot out bullets from afar
There's a stylish and amusing slow-motion effect that kicks in when you throw out the final blow on the last enemy too. It's a good example of the game's wider charm in both visuals and narrative. The platforming and combat is solid, but the game's world is also just a joy to inhabit. The visuals strike that perfect balance between charmingly detailed yet well considered for optimal performance on standalone headsets.
Putting all these elements together, it's easy to see how Outta Hand might offer something that becomes the next natural progress of the Gorilla Tag movement system. Not only is it an evolution of that system, but ot offers more mechanics and a sense of flinging freedom with satisfying bouts of combat interspersed throughout.
We can't wait to play more of the full game when it releases September 28 on Quest. Keep an eye out for more Outta Hand news coming soon.