Twin stick shooters are a dime a dozen, as are puzzle games and stealth games, but twin stick, stealth puzzlers? Knapnok Games’ Affordable Space Adventures may well be the first. It also has another trick up its sleeve with its control system. The left stick moves your ship and the right stick aims your light/scanner (we’ll come back to that later), nothing new there, right? The WiiU Gamepad’s touchscreen adds an extra feature just not possible on other machines, and is the main ingredient for the puzzles within the game. It can seem overwhelming, but you can control your energy levels, engine output, mass and even switch from your standard engine to a silent, electric motor. All these things are vital to your survival as the game progresses. It also just feels fun to control your ship’s functions like they do on Star Trek.
Make no mistake, this is the best use of the WiiU’s Gamepad yet. No other developer, Nintendo included, has used it to this degree and so incredibly well to boot. All puzzles revolve around the enemies and their detection ranges, which you use your scanner to detect. Holding the right analog stick in the direction of the enemy and holding the left shoulder button will result in a circular representation of its awareness range, along with a readout on your touchscreen that will tell you how to avoid detection.
Avoiding detection usually boils down to sound, electricity use and heat output. Some enemies will only react to noise, which requires a simple switch to the electric engine and away you go. However, some require a careful balance of everything or, and this is where it becomes crazily detail-oriented, some real out of the box thinking. One example would be having to switch your engines off completely, only to slam them back on before you drop to your death. And that is just the simplest example.
Affordable Space Adventures opens with a superbly tongue-in-cheek promotional video, made to feel like a brochure for a holiday – only with a witty sense of humour that wouldn’t be out of place in a Fallout game. You’re supposed to be enjoying a nice, relaxing jaunt around a beautiful alien planet, filled with wondrous views and interesting artefacts, but instead are abandoned on a hostile world of darkness and storms, filled with machines and alien life that are all going to kill you if you make the wrong move.
Starting in a ship that has to be rebooted due to a crash landing, the game uses this to slowly give you access to new areas of ship control, using the reboot sequence as an interesting and unique take on the Metroid school of giving back abilities over time. It allows you to explore and get your bearings, with the first few areas being devoid of enemies but it builds a real atmosphere with its dark caves and impressive lighting effects. This foreboding atmosphere does seem completely at odds with the game’s humour, but it’s easy to ignore that flaw due to the game being so interesting and fun to play.
Each area offers a few puzzles for you to work out. From the simple task of finding and activating switches, to altering your ship’s mass and switching engines and firing flares all in the space of a few seconds, Affordable Space Adventures offers a real challenge. This could block progress for the more inexperienced puzzle gamer, and it doesn’t offer much in the way of accessibility for those players, which is a bit of a letdown.
Exploring these areas is a treat for the eyes, at least. From the gorgeous lighting effects of your spotlight as it illuminates dark caves, to the stormy surface world and the broken remnants of past visitors’ ships, Affordable Space Adventures offers stylised art direction that creates stunning visuals that belies the small budget on which the game was made.
Multiplayer is also available here, in a party game style. Up to three players can share the ship controls, with one steering the ship, one aiming the spotlight and the third using the Gamepad to control the ship’s engines. It’s not entirely successful and feels like an afterthought, but it does offer some novelty fun in a panic-filled session as you try to work together to solve puzzles and futilely attempt to prevent your inevitable death at the hands of the surprisingly vicious enemies.
Affordable Space Adventures does offer a good amount of gameplay, but ironically at a strangely expensive price. At £16.99 it does seem a bit steep, especially when most digital-only games are sub-£15, but puzzle fans will definitely get their money’s worth. Hopefully more developers will take note of Knapnok Games’ use of the WiiU Gamepad though, and finally stop using it as a simple menu or map screen, instead using it to its full potential.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Wii U code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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