Part Time UFO is a strange, unexpected arrival to the mobile marketplace, but at the same time, a much welcome classic take on puzzle games.
Part Time UFO is the first release by HAL Egg, a recently formed mobile-game-focused subsidiary of HAL Laboratory, Inc, best known as the developer behind Nintendo’s Kirby series as well as the first two Super Smash Bros. games. More recently, HAL also developed the BoxBoy! series of games for the 3DS, to which Part Time UFO could be considered a kind of off-shoot of, in its sensibilities and style at least.
In Part Time UFO, you play the role of a wayward anthropomorphic disc-shaped spacecraft of alien origins, crash-landed on Earth, but making do by taking odd jobs from classified ads – jobs which all involve the need for a flying saucer with a crane, coincidentally enough.
To complete these jobs (a.k.a levels), you have to use your “crane game”-like a claw to grab a hold of objects and place them in their designated area, which might sound simple enough, but there’s more to it than just that. Firstly, each puzzle has different completion requirements. While one puzzle might simply ask you to place some fruit on a truck bed, another might require the building of say, a temple, with pillars and a roof and all that.
In order to complete a task as specific as that, you have to get a firm hold on your grabbing, balancing and general finagling skills. You can fly around in a level area pretty freely, so in combination to using your claw, at times you might be able to flip over or push objects by flying under, into or around them.
But wait, there’s more! Each level also has three special tasks that can be completed in order to earn medals, which in turn unlock more levels (think like “stars” in modern 3D Mario games). These special tasks can be something like completing a level within a certain time, placing objects in a specific way, collecting all different kind of fish in a fishing puzzle, finding hidden characters within the puzzle area, and so on.
Completing each level nets you an income in the form of coins, and the amount of coins you earn depends on the number of tasks completed once a puzzle is completed. These coins can be used to buy things like new outfits for UFO or abilities like faster speed or the ability to prevent objects from swaying too much.
But, does all of this come together in a cohesive sort of way? The answer has to be yes. It absolutely does.
Completing each level is satisfying on its own but going for the medals is what makes the game really shine. It’s downright addictive working to earn them all, and while the difficulty does unevenly spike in some levels compared to others (I’m looking at you, Circus job #3), it’s never really unfair nor all too difficult. It simply requires a little bit of patience, something that might be a bit of a unique idea for a mobile game, a medium that is usually home to more short-attention-span driven flights.
This all said, the game has a few fleeting but noticeable rough edges, with one or two puzzles in particular that seem to have a design oversight that can make you accidentally finish a level sooner than you wanted to if you’re aiming for a specific medal.
Perhaps this is by design, but it’s not something that I found particularly fun in that instance, having to do everything over again in an already needlessly time-consuming puzzle.
Even if some puzzles give you a hard time, you can rely on both the visuals and music to uplift your spirits, to cheer you on. The visuals are cute and minimal, and sort of remind me of the first Scribblenauts game for the DS, in that they kinda float and have a general cartoon vibe to them.
There’s a lot of little bits of character and charm added throughout the game, with how all the different outfits look on UFO, all the interactions with objects (which happen to be sometimes living humans and animals) as you grab with your claw, the stage backgrounds and so on.
The music, however, is perhaps the strongest part of the presentation for me. Reminiscent of music from the likes of Noby Noby Boy and the original Scribblenauts (a continuing comparison), the soundtrack consists of what sounds like variations on the same theme, with these alien sounding soft vocals on top of friendly, strange and oddly nostalgic scores. It’s not something I was expecting to be such a strong part of the game going in, but it’s definitely what has stuck with me the most.
All in all, Part Time UFO is a charming, sweet little puzzle game with a lot of challenge that should keep you busy for a long time. As a modest, relatively short mobile game that costs $4, it goes above and beyond its scope within its medium.
It’s the kind of puzzle game that I wish we would see more of all across all gaming platforms, harking back to smaller, more confined but lovingly crafted games on handheld consoles of the past.
I hope this isn’t the last we see of our UFO friend in its journey across Earth as a part-timer. I’ve come to grow fond of this world and what else it might have to offer, and that is a testament to the fun I’ve had in the charming world of Part Time UFO.