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‘Affordable Space Adventures’: No money, mo’ problems

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Great Puzzle Games

Anyone wanting to decrease NASA’s budget in favor of a more fiscally conservative approach to interplanetary exploration should probably take a look at Danish developer KnapNok Games’ latest title, Affordable Space Adventures. You get what you pay for, folks, and in the case of this eShop exclusive, that’s not only a nice little stealth puzzler, but a game that contains some of the most creative and fun uses of Wii U-specific features in the system’s library.

The basic concept is that you’ve fallen for a travel agency ad cheerily reminiscent of Rekall, Inc. that promises the ultimate group vacation: a fantastical tour in your own private spacecraft of the amazing-sounding planet Spectaculon. Check out the local flora and fauna, behold ancient technological artifacts left behind by a former society, and discover new territory to claim in your own name! With a zero-percent accident rate, what could possibly go wrong?

Well, if you don’t count your drop container exploding and causing damage to the ship’s engineering systems, all of which shut down, forcing the onboard computer to reboot and slowly repair itself while you and your crew navigate through hostile environments filled with freezing temperatures, fiery eruptions and countless killer robots whose detectors sense a variety of emissions from your fragile vessel, then nothing.

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Affordable Space Adventures puts the player in this challenging situation as a means to deliver solid puzzle gaming enveloped by a rich atmosphere and an immersive experience provided not only through the TV screen, but the gamepad as well. On the former appears the spacecraft and everything that wants to destroy you, while in your hands is the “Heads Down Display”, touchscreen control of the ship’s features, tools that gradually come online as the adventure advances. Also down below are meters and alerts that inform the player of the level of various emanations such as sound, temperature, and electricity. By scanning enemies to see what particular output they are sensitive to, then manipulating different aspects of the engines, the player seeks to sneak their way past obstacles and avoid being blasted into a smoldering wreckage.

Easy, right? Not quite, it turns out, as often some deft maneuvering and crafty combinations must be employed to prevent instant machine-gun death and the ruination of yet another family holiday. Can’t these things ever go well? The touchscreen works great for this sort of setup, not only for the ease of the layout (a scheme hard to imagine going as smoothly with only buttons), but also for the way it actively enhances the feeling of actually being in the pilot’s seat. Alerts buzz in, gauge needles spike, and transmissions are sent and received all on the lower display. If it turns out that being at the helm is too big a handful, a multiplayer component is included, allowing up to two other friends to help split the duties on multiple controllers, but while divvying up jobs can be a fun lesson in communication difficulties, having it all on the gamepad is actually more manageable. There is a lot going on, but the systems control mostly with ease, leaving everything quickly adjustable on the fly. Of course, just like in real space life, hit the wrong switch and no one will hear the ensuing curse words.

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Fear not, though; picturesque Spectaculon is all about unwinding. Things can get a little hectic at times, but the puzzles themselves are presented in short stages, all of which contain generous checkpoints for those who may explode from time to time. Some experimentation (read: deaths) will probably be necessary to find the solutions, but there’s always time to stop and analyze a situation from every angle if you’re into that whole patience thing. Pacing is also done well, with difficulty ramping steadily up only after new techniques have been mastered. There are a few frustrations along the way, but that said, this is actually one of the more relaxing puzzlers out there, and the bite-sized challenges make it easy to pick up and put down anytime your brain gets fried.

The visuals, while nothing groundbreaking, successfully add to the mellow vibe, the planet’s design full of swaying plant life, cavernous echoes, and enough variety in the backgrounds to stay interesting. The whole presentation creates an immersive spell that lingers the entire way, with charming DOS-style reboots and even a cracked screen as a nice touch on the gamepad. The game stays in character and never cheats, using the ship’s log, player’s surroundings, and even loading screens to deliver organic tutorials and story bits in place of awkward pop-ups. These sometimes vague clues are conveyed with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor that seems part of the UExplore agency’s standard econo-package instead of mere video game hand-holding.

The six-plus hours of gameplay culminate in a tonally perfect end that makes surprisingly creative use of the Miiverse to deliver its parting shot, suggesting that while money isn’t everything, there are some things you don’t skimp on. With some clever gameplay and great atmosphere, Affordable Space Adventures offers a wealth of satisfaction, ensuring that the all-expenses-paid disaster of a trip is a fun and memorable one indeed.

Patrick Murphy grew up in the hearty Midwest, where he spent many winter hours watching movies and playing video games while waiting for baseball season to start again. When not thinking of his next Nintendo post or writing screenplays to satisfy his film school training, he’s getting his cinema fix as the Editor of Sordid Cinema, Goomba Stomp's Film and TV section.

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