Affordable Space Adventures (WiiU) Review: Everybody’s dead, Dave!

It’s rare that a game comes along that actually needs the WiiU gamepad to work, despite it being the Swiss army knife of controllers.  Most of the WiIU’s best games would potentially work just as well without it. But, when a developer takes the time to make something that actually takes full advantage of the pad, the results are something special and worth your attention. Affordable Space Adventures is such a game.

In Affordable Space Adventures, you and up to three friends (Okay, so it’s really two but every crew needs a tea lady or obnoxious AI.) take on the role of the crew of a spaceship that has crash-landed on the planet Spectaculon.  The planet is, no matter what the promotional video for the trip promised, incredibly hostile.

Your goal is a simple one; pilot your damaged small craft to safety. The only problem is that you’re not entirely sure where safety is, giving you all no choice but to press on and explore the planet. In single player, you take on the role of a lone astronaut, and use the gamepad to control all of the ships systems. The analogue sticks control directional movement, whilst the touch screen is home to your engine management controls, landing gear and various outputs including sound, heat and electrical use. Overloading systems will (at best) shut down your engines and (at worst) destroy the ship. Keeping an eye on your levels is as important as overcoming the many obstacles that you’ll run into. Getting past various alien creatures requires you to keep your sound or heat levels to a minimum by employing your electric engines instead of your noisy fuel ones. You’ll need to deploy flares to push out of reach buttons and survey the surroundings with your searchlight and on-board scanners in order to assess dangerous situations.

Since you are essentially piloting the futuristic equivalent of a glass-bottomed boat your ship has no offensive capabilities at all, forcing you to out-wit rather than out-gun the planet’s hostile inhabitants, which is done by playing close attention to your output levels, using the right tool for the job and generally creeping along wherever and however you can.  This makes for some brilliant head-scratching moments, not to mention some incredibly tense situations as you pray that you’ve got your outputs set just right to avoid some mechanised monstrosity or carnivorous flora from noticing your tiny little vessel and bringing your ill-fated package holiday to an abruptly messy end.

What makes Affordable Space Adventures truly special is how it creates a palpable sense of immersion with a truly unique control scheme. Like a great character actor, it doesn’t break out of role for a second. The game’s narrative unfolds entirely through gameplay, with no cut scenes at all save for the game’s opening video, which could easily be something displayed when you first jump on board ship

ASA -- Screenshot-02This is all  accompanied by some rather ingenious puzzle design, which steadily increases in complexity as the ship’s systems slowly flicker back to life.  From navigating through claustrophobic rocky tunnels and underground rivers to using your landing gears in inventive ways, you slowly traverse the inhospitable planet, uncovering not only the secrets of the rock you’re currently stuck on but those of the company that sent you there in the place.

This combines with dream-like visuals, a minimalist (yet oh-so haunting) soundtrack and some incredibly clever sound design that makes ingenious use of the gamepad speaker to bring all the minutiae of whirs, clicks and other background noises a spaceship would make right in your hands.  It heightens the immersion and drags you bodily into the gameworld. The game’s struggles feel all that closer to home and all the more satisfying when you overcome them.

Played alone, Affordable Space Adventures shares a similar claustraphobic tone to Moon or 2000AD,  It’s just you against the world, struggling to figure out the way off this strange alien planet, and with nothing but your thoughts for company. Once you add a couple friends to the mix, however, the tone of the game changes dramatically. It’s easily one of the best couch co-op experiences I have had in a long while.

Rather than simply giving player two another ship to pilot, Affordable Space Adventures instead makes each player take on the role of a different crew member, with control over various aspects of the ship – think Star Trek, or in my case, Red Dwarf (because the small craft does look a lot like the Blue Midget) and you can’t go wrong.

ASA -- Screenshot-01The player with the game pad takes on the role of the ships engineer, who controls the thrusters, keeps an eye on engine output and adjusting the levels as necessary to make sure the ship doesn’t blow up.  Players two and three, (using either a wiimote and nunchuck or a game pad pro) take on the roles of pilot and science officer, taking charge of movement and scanners respectively.

In order to get past the increasingly fiendish obstacles, effective communication becomes vital, with each member of the crew need to work in sync with the others, doing their bit to make sure everything goes according to plan. You’d think it would make the game harder, but oddly enough, it really didn’t.  When the engineer cuts the engines at just the right time, allowing the ship to drop past that aggressive unknown lifeform (which the science officer scanned) before kicking them back in and watching the pilot guide the ship to safety, you’ll want to give a cheesy A-Team Hannibal grin, light up a cigar and explain how much you enjoy it when a plan comes together.

In short: If you own a WiIU, Affordable Space Adventures is a game that you need in your library. It’s a unique, it’s engaging and it’s a brilliant adventure that showcases the strengths of the console in ways that put even Nintendo’s efforts to shame.

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