Treefall Games does not have the best reputation among Wii U indie enthusiasts. After the infamous The Letter, it has been hard for any of their games to gain legitimate positive traction among the community. With Outside the Realm they have their best shot at doing so yet: the game is competently made, with endearing art and a reasonably solid concept. Unfortunately, finally nailing down the basics does not a great game make, and the lack of depth or challenge, alongside the minuscule length, leads to something quite forgettable.
Outside the Realm tells the tale of a friendly astronaut who helps an alien get some crystals. The story is told through scrolling text at the beginning and end of the game, and it is terribly done. Not only does it fail to be an interesting story in its own right nor add any meaningful context to the gameplay, the text scrawls so slowly (and is unskippable) that I found myself getting impatient and frustrated right off the bat.
Obviously, Outside the Realm does not have a great opening or closing, but the gameplay in the middle is what counts. So what is the gameplay? It’s pretty simple: every level is a single screen. By touching your astronaut on the touchscreen and holding down a direction on the D-pad, your character will move in that direction until hitting something. That something could be a star, which halts the astronaut’s forward motion, or an enemy, which forces you to restart the level. You can remove a star by touching it. Sometimes you will be able to send colored stars barreling into enemies to remove them from your path. Your goal is to collect a gem and make it to your spaceship without touching an enemy.
It’s a fine idea, but not much is done with it. It is almost always immediately obvious which path you need to take, nor is it much harder getting to the goal. I found myself breezing through all 30+ levels with only one or two challenges stumping me. It is a perfectly acceptable experience, but the lack of gameplay variety and challenge kept it from really being compelling. It’s all fine as a baseline, but nothing is done to build on the concept.
There are also three bonus levels, where you just move up and and down to avoid enemies as your character heads to the finish line. These are great changes of pace, and honestly I enjoyed them more than the main game. Unfortunately these, too, did not include much adversity.
The music is not great; there are a couple of songs, and all of them annoyed me after not much time at all. The instruments grated, and the melody was not overly pleasant. The visuals were much better. The art is very cartoonish, and while the backgrounds felt lazy, the objects you interact with had a certain charm I found very appealing, especially alien enemies.
All in all, Outside the Realm is not great. At just fifty cents at launch, it may be worth a playthrough if you want something mindless to play for thirty minutes. Yet it lacks any depth and challenge; it’s reasonably good by Wii U budget title standards, but unfortunately it never steps into its own potential to become truly worthwhile.