The premise for Blue Collar Astronaut pokes fun at a lot of popular sci-fi media, namely the idea that everything is more glamorous and interesting in space. I was sold, especially after the hilarious trailer. I play a lot of games where I’m responsible for saving the universe, after all. I figured it would be nice to play something where the stakes are a little lower.
The tutorial, which is usually a watered down version of the game’s mechanics meant to give you a general idea of the controls, was ridiculously difficult and subsequently very tedious. The cheeky tone and cute 2D graphics did not prepare me for this level of frustration. Driving the spaceship is not very intuitive. You only have one thruster, which makes it hard to change direction. And on top of that, the gravity physics are constantly working against you. The mechanics for slowing down or speeding up are severely limited, and if you overshoot your target, it’s possible to run out of fuel just trying to move back in range of your goal. Not to mention there’s a time limit. Every single lesson required multiple attempts with many near misses and explosions along the way, and more than once I crashed my spaceship on purpose in a fit of anger after it became clear I was about to fail yet again.
Finally at long last, I “graduated” the tutorial level with a nifty diploma and a massive pile of student loans. I had the option to get a job delivering pizza or go deeper into debt to get my master’s degree. I could also tweak my spaceship with updates, though those would also put me even further in debt. I opted to skip grad school and get a job but found myself unable to complete even the first mission. Something about the launch angle and the way I needed to land on the roof just wasn’t clicking, even after many tedious attempts. Apparently, I needed to go back to school.
I learned some fancier driving techniques and got a little better at landing my ship by opting to get my master’s degree, but I had no desire to play further. After so many failures, there was no satisfaction to be gained from my rare, tiny, victories. I found myself forced to perform menial tasks to chip away at my debt, or forced to jump through a series of artificial hoops that would only serve to increase my debt. I don’t need a heavily detailed plot to motivate me to finish a game, but at a bare minimum, the game should be fun.
As I found myself wondering about real life grad school, I realized the struggle in this game had gotten a little too real. Maybe everything is cooler in space, but here on Earth, I play games to avoid thinking about performing tedious jobs that don’t pay well enough to justify what I spent on my education. Ouch, see? It hits a little too close to home.
This game’s main strength, and what drew me to it initially, is the hand-drawn illustrations. The design is top notch, and the dry humor found in the trailer is also laced throughout. For what it’s worth, even after so much frustration, this game is still funny. I would like to have seen more of that genuine charm shine through, but it just couldn’t hold my interest.
I get what they’re doing, but they did it a little too well. Until there’s talk of real vocational jobs in space, I’ll be playing a game where all of my bills are paid.
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