Affordable Space Adventures is available from the Nintendo eShop. At launch — for Australians — the price is 25 buckaroos which is a bit steep considering the general price and quality of the other games on the eShop but it’s a unique experience that you literally can’t get anywhere else.
Ever since the Wii U’s launch I don’t think we’ve had an entire singular game that utilises all of the console’s features and is a better game for it. Zombie U was close, a fine game in my opinion but a few of the features were unnecessarily forced onto the Gamepad. Not so with Affordable Space Adventures, the controls as delivered are pretty damn good, replicating that feeling of flipping switches and pressing buttons on a sci-fi control panel. The left joystick is used for movement and the right is used to control the flashlight/scanner/flare aiming which operates 360 degrees around the ship — very intuitive use of the joysticks. All of the other ship functions the two engine’s, mass generator, landing gears etc, are all operated by touching icons and then adjusting power levels that appear on the Gamepad. Short cut buttons for changing the landing gears and turning on a certain engine quickly are also provided which is a neat bonus.
My only gripe with the controls is that to me the power levels are better “controlled” using a slider system perhaps where you can slide your finger on a long vertical section of Gamepad that is dedicated to that engine feature — mass generator, anti-grav, thrusters, etc. I’ve put no effort into actually researching how viable this is and it may very well be that the devs used a similar design in testing and it didn’t work but just from where I’m coming from personally, that would have been a slightly more elegant solution than pressing these small icons and then pressing another set that appear after that to change the power level of that function.
The controls as they are can be cumbersome, especially in later levels when you are tasked with quickly finding sub systems turning them on or adjusting their power level. However, the penalty for failure is very low, so it’s not too much of a problem. You will either get stunned and have to try again from where you land or die and spawn at a very close checkpoint. The controls being dedicated to the Gamepad mean that you can’t play the game in off-TV mode like practically all of the Wii U’s library which is a bit of a bummer but I really do feel that the trade-off is worth it. Having to look down at your controls to adjust sub systems really does add to the experience of being a pioneering cosmic explorer in a tiny rust bucket of a space ship flung head first into a mysterious planet.
Initially I was expecting this to be a procedurally generated affair where you go in and explore a random planet made from algorithms and whatnot. The actual game is instead a well crafted, linear experience of levels that drive you through different environments with a central physics based puzzle that defines each level. You use your wits and intricately manage your ship’s available sub systems to navigate through laser fields, bypass hostile artifacts without being detected and traverse areas of intense temperatures. This I find a much better experience overall and you get this guaranteed sense of progression and mastery over your controls and the environment that stands in your way. All of the levels and puzzles are designed to do that and the final level especially stands out as something that was crafted to illicit a certain feel and nails it. A purely random world has very little chance of giving you such an experience.
The aesthetics of the game are also great, the environments are varied and interesting giving you that sense of awe as you explore and see new things. You begin to question where you are within the planet, what kind of people used to live here, who built these machines? Am I inside a biological creature right now? What’s a Stargate doing here? I couldn’t sense an overall narrative connection with these things which would have made the game much more compelling but that feeling of discovery is still very present.
Another benefit to moving all of the icons to the “Heads Down Display”(GamePad) is that the entire TV is dedicated to those environments although I suppose there is something to be said about looking away completely from the screen to adjust some controls but eh like I said, the trade-off is for the feeling of operating a space-ship control panel. What I’ve described so far is just for the single player experience. The co-op multiplayer is even better at trying to create that experience of being in the bridge of a space ship except more fun. You’ll be berating each other for making mistakes, patting each other on the backs for well executed maneuvers and just having a good time. It’s a much funner ride with friends providing the couch co-op that is rare to see in this day and age. I personally sorta prefer the more isolated single player experience as you have the time to take in the world and revel in that feeling of being alone in a foreign environment but the couch co-op is definitely something worth taking part in if you can.
Affordable Space Adventures is a good little game that uses the Wii U to it’s fullest potential. Even not taking that into account, the game offers a well crafted experience that offers a some clever puzzles a neat varied world of environments. The intuitive nature of the controls means anyone can play which makes the multiplayer that much more viable but the single player is just as good but offers a different a different feel.