I confess, I was baffled when I heard Holy Potatoes! We’re in Space?! was in development. “Oh! It’s sweet they’re doing an expansion of Holy Potatoes! A Weapon Shop?!” I exclaimed at the time. “No”, a disapproving head-shake within the Steam store page as I read on, “it is its own game”. “A sci-fi sequel to a fantasy title?”. A frown creeping in on the face as they ask “sequel?”. “Oh. So it’s a follow-on with a similar aesthetic and similar goofy sense of humour, but completely different genre and gameplay… Hhhmm…”. So I admit I walked in with cautious expectations. Expectations that were easily succeeded with a new found achilles heel.
Holy Potatoes! We’re in Space?! is not only the type of exclamation an incredibly sheltered middle-aged man would utter in an astronomy hall, but is also a sci-fi game by Daylight Studios. As the intro hints, it is the same developer as Holy Potatoes! A Weapon Shop?!. It also cradles a very similar aesthetic and daft sense of humour (which I’m sure we’ll get back to). The similarities end there.
Gameplay wise, the best comparison on hand is a game those of you who like crawling around the indie section of Steam will have likely given a punt: FTL: Faster Than Light. You must run from star system to star system with an empire hot on your heels hunting you down. If they catch up, you face an incredibly hard fight where you’ll be desperately trying to run lest they show you what sudden decompression can do to a sentient being by blowing your ship up.
As you leap from system to system, trying to get to your desired goal, you upgrade your ship and crew to deal with increasingly meaner threats. Said randomly-encountered combat against threats require you to point up to four guns at the parts where to fire. You also can randomly encounter multiple choice scenarios as you trek across the stars.
“Bloody hell”, you may be punctuating with a weary sigh, “so Holy Potatoes! We’re in Space?! is a clone?”. Not at all. I promise you.
One of the more noticeable differences is how it handles exploration within a star system. In FTL you are wizzing from planet-to-planet as quickly as you can, trying to get to the end. Holy Potatoes! We’re in Space?! has each collection of planets as a scene that must be resolved akin to a silly Saturday Morning cartoon episode. Only upon being resolved are you allowed to move on. Considering you have a turn limit in each star system before a bounty hunter appears to take a swing at you, you may want to dash through your story as fast as possible.
How good this narrative approach naturally depends on its writing, which coincidentally depends on how daft you like your stories. Do you like the idea of acting as a taxi service for an actor (which one of your pilots just absolutely adores) who turns out to be a secret agent? There is still drama unravelling, like playing pass-the-parcel with a combine harvester, but it stays light-hearted and fortunately knows when to joke and when to be serious.
There is an expected side effect though: Replayability. The planet arrangement shifts with each replay and what happens when you explore each planet (which is how you come across enemies, activate non-combat adventures and gather loot) is randomly picked every time, but that’s all. You still have to deal with the same old linear narratives each time. Considering the story is so involving (including the occasional boss), you may find replaying it more like Groundhog Day rather than containing any meaningful shifts.
Once you’ve got the story wrapped up and you have spare turns left (as turns are spent moving to planets or exploring planets), you may figure exploration is on the cards. This is important as this will be where you’ll be grabbing all the materials needed to make weapons and all the money to purchase upgrades.
While events and enemy choice (which can affect income and materials found when exploring) is randomised, fortunately Holy Potatoes! We’re In Space?! decided to allow for the upgrade choices to remain the same and always be accessible. You can either upgrade crew members (who can get perks that improve combat ability, weapon building and more), passive upgrades or build guns on the ship (which also requires time). Alternatively, you may just head to the hub planet for ship upgrades, recruit crewmen, buy materials or buy schematics for weapons to build. The hub planet will also, for free, fill your fuel (spent exploring and travelling) and hull health.
In a roundabout way, what I’m saying is it isn’t cruelly hard due to dropping the wrong loot as you’ll always have access to places that’ll give you what you crave. It is also presenting a choice of tactics, rather than forcing you down the opportunistic “whatever I can grab”.
Instead, it is the combat that can kick your teeth in. Holy Potatoes! We’re In Space?! uses a turn-based system where on each turn you’ll charge so much energy up out of your maximum (depending on your ship’s equipment), where you can spend your gun’s energy cost to use it that turn. You can also protect either one of your guns or your hull with a shield that has limited health that can recharge. If the shield breaks you’ll have to wait for it to fully recharge to reappear.
That said, bosses have a tendency to hit like train and have enough health to make JRPG bosses blush. As they destroy each of your guns (because while targetting is a thing, splash damage is as common as a deceitful politician), your damage per turn will go from “pretty good, although an uphill fight” to “pixie stabbing a giant with a nail”.
Another factor is recovery. In JRPG boss fights, if the tide turns horribly against you, you can spend a few rounds recovering if wanted. To lick your wounds, to resurrect the fallen and to get rid of debuffs. Holy Potatoes! We’re In Space?! believes such measures to be a sign of cowardice and if you want to recover then you better have installed a weapon specifically designed to repair based on damage. Otherwise an unlucky crit or a run of misses will leave you constantly fumbling.
To make matters worse, let’s say a gun breaks in a random encounter due to an ill-fortuned crit. A cherished gun that you’ll be naming your kids after. That gun is now permanently broken, so you better hope you can get a single-use schematic for it somewhere. In addition, your character will likely have PTSD (with the chance being decreased via upgrades) so you’ll either have to deal with a flawed crew-member or burn turns not using them so they may recover from it (fortunately for free).
So yes, Holy Potatoes! We’re In Space?! is a hard game. One that is narrative based but still requires luck to be on your side like a roguelike. The main saving grace is the load system is generous. Checkpoints are often, rooted in when you arrive at the planet you’re on, when you last visited the hub planet or when you first arrived at the new star system with high hopes and no idea you’re about to get the back of your head stomped on by the locals. That said, I also would have preferred a difficulty system. Something so knuckle-dragging simpletons like me can get through challenges I’m sure the devs can defeat in their sleep.
So I guess what I’m saying is I didn’t complete this game. I could not for the life of me defeat a pirate who kept breaking all my guns and shields, regenerating their weapons and had so much health that just crushing through their defences was out the question. While Holy Potatoes! A Weapon Shop?! was a laid-back time relaxing, Holy Potatoes! We’re In Space?! just left me in the dust as my ship blew up so many times you’d think Michael Bay directed the game.
The final score of Holy Potatoes! We’re In Space?! is a 7/10. It is a title that distinguishes itself from similar games via its warm daft charisma and all the tweaks that make it more narrative-based and consistent between playthroughs. Yet, as fun as it is, I can’t help but feel something got lost in the transformation. The replayability is gone and the desire for bosses has led to a difficulty that may leave some out in the cold, with no difficulty selection system to help the frail and dim (e.g. me) along.
Despite it’s shift, I’d still recommend it for those who have a roguelike itch to scratch, especially the sci-fi brand of itch. I’d also say it is worth checking out if you want something that is bonkers like no tomorrow. I’d maybe suggest those who like turn-based systems to give it a gander too, with the warning that grinding is light and there isn’t an elemental system going on. Although those who usually get their head stomped in turn-based titles may want to sit this out, or wait for a deal, as this sci-fi frontier is as forgiving as space is without a spacesuit.
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