I fell in love with Affordable Space Adventures the moment I played it. As a game that showed up in newsfeeds, tweets and on YouTube, I didn't think too much of this oddly titled space exploration effort.
Then I played it at PAX this year with a co-worker, and it quickly became one of my more anticipated Wii U titles.
I played it for an hour that day while the developers sort of stepped back and let us have our fun. There was this genuine feeling of discovery as we figured out how the game worked and what we had to do to proceed.
That sense of discovery, I'm happy to report, is retained in the full retail release of Affordable Space Adventures. The game is out now, I've been playing it for more than a week with friends and by myself and I can honestly say that I love it.
This thing is a beautiful example of multiplayer on the Wii U, and it's a shame that it came out this late in the console's awkward life span.
Exploring a deadly world on a budget works perfectly
The way Affordable Space Adventures is set up is actually pretty neat. You're one of several self-driven explorers on a budget who elects to rent a budget space craft from the Uexplore company. That space craft is, more or less, a bucket of bolts with multiple engine systems.
With the GamePad (while alone, though I'll explain that more later), you're meant to explore what was supposed to be a peaceful planet by steering your ship, managing a flashlight/scanner and performing engineer duties on the touchscreen as needed. Say you want your little ship to sink to the bottom of a water-filled hole. You'll need to increase its mass in order to sink, though that will also kill its thrusters.
You'll juggle functionality like this throughout the game, and the longer you play more gets thrown at you until you're either a master of the controls or floundering like an idiot. Both feel awesome, fortunately.
What really feels great, though, is exactly how affordable your spacecraft is. Developer KnapNok Games went the extra mile with its budget aesthetics. Your ship putters along long like an old, beat up car when using fuel thrusters. You actually start the ship with an aging ignition startup sound. Heck, when you emerge from a pool of water you hear that classic old wipers on windshield sound effect.
Even the loading screens (and there are a lot of them, unfortunately) feel cheap. The whole Uexplore thing is disguised as this great and wonderful getaway to the planet Spectaculon, but all of that evaporates into lies and, basically, bad marketing as you play.
It seems really simple, but you feel like you're flying in this bucket held together with duct tape and chewing gum, and it really punches home the "affordable" notion of the game. It works really, really well, and that charm had both my friends and me giggling throughout play.
Playing alone is excellently challenging
Like I mentioned above, solo play means controlling all of the ship's systems at once. You're steering, aiming the flashlight, firing a missile-like probe, scanning alien objects and managing the increasingly complex mechanics of the ship all at once.
It sounds daunting, but KnapNok does a fine job scaling the difficulty up so that you don't feel truly overwhelmed until the later portion of the game. Trust me, that overwhelming feeling comes, but you're good enough when it happens that it feels more welcome than not.
As you'd expect, the difficulty comes from having the manage so much at once while moving through tough areas. The "enemies" in the game react to your presence by seemingly listening for certain things before activating their defense systems. So, you'll fly up. scan an enemy (or group of enemies, sometimes) and figure out what your ship is doing that will set them off.
You might need to switch from your fuel engine to your electric one in order to keep heat or noise down. Maybe the enemy has electric and heat sensors that force you to gain momentum and shut down all systems right as you zoom by only to kick them on again in order to prevent a crash once your past them.
It can be really tough at times, and each level will challenge you to think about the systems you have and how best to tweak them in order to better puzzles.
Affordable Space Adventures constantly adds new systems and mechanics, too. So, you'll be hours into the game when they introduce you to three sets of landing gear that greatly change how you both traverse and interact with your environment.
Those constant additions are welcome, and they keep things fresh through play. The game stays exciting and mysterious, and that's wonderful.
This is the way Wii U multiplayer was meant to be
For the cooperative arm of the Affordable Space Adventures experience, I took my console to a friend's house. The game supports up to three players in cooperative play, and it works with either the Pro Controller or a Wii Remote with Nunchuck.
The players I played with, and this might be the best news for some, ranged in skill from regular player to someone who rarely plays anything. The more experienced player had no trouble picking up the ships controls and steering us through most situations. The less skilled player wound up aiming flashlights, scanners and firing the probe.
I was on the engineering controls with the GamePad.
Even with our different skill levels, Affordable Space Adventures worked really well in a group. Each situation would illicit either instant recognition with a unanimous back pat or unilateral confusion that forced us to help and push one another. And all of this went down while we giggled at the sound effects and silly loading screens.
Affordable Space Adventures is welcoming to the newcomers and veterans, and the three of us loved playing the game together. We each fell into our assigned roles, and when we pulled off some of the crazy later maneuvers in the game, we audibly cheered for one another.
This odd, cooperative, GamePad driven type of play was what I wanted from the Wii U when it launched. Honestly, I think KnapNok Games did a better job demonstrating the GamePad's capabilities with the Wii U than Nintendo has in several instances.
The multiplayer here was awesome for my friends and me.
Affordable Space Adventures is a brilliantly fun, atmospheric and rewarding game. It works best in groups, and it's an awesome entry for the Wii U.
I don't think a game has charmed my friends and me quite like Affordable Space Adventures has over the last week or so. We're talking about it, laughing about it and looking to play again when we have time together.
I loved the game alone and with friends, and I really want to see KnapNok do something similar in the future. Not that this one necessarily needs a sequel, but that the developer has a great handle on what type of unique play the Wii U's GamePad should offer.
For Wii U owners, this game is a great option. It's $19.99 on the eShop, and it's worth every penny.
Disclaimer: We received a code to download and review Affordable Space Adventures from the developer. We played the game in both solo and multiplayer modes to completion before starting this review.
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