Developer: Wayward Distractions | Publisher: The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild | Genre: Platformer | Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch | Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch
Less an epic adventure across the galaxy and more a zippy test drive to the outer rim and back, Space Otter Charlie is nevertheless filled with the kind of light fun and frolic one would expect from its real-life inspirations — except instead of hitting a clam with a rock, Charlie uses space lasers to blast cosmic goo and buzz-saw robots while bouncing off walls via nifty Zero-G platforming. It’s a pleasant trip that’s over too quickly, but the floating gameplay leaves an impression as well as a desire for an even grander mission to more places where no otter has gone before.
While it’s easy to go into Space Otter Charlie expecting a frenzied shooter where players will be assaulted by hordes of alien cannon fodder to mow down, the reality is far from intense. This is a friendly hybrid focused more on light puzzle-platforming than blazing firefights, with a hint of exploration to boot. Hitting switches unlocks doors, discovering keys grants access to new areas; it’s pretty basic stuff, Metroidvania-lite. Maps are self-contained instead of interconnected, keeping spatial awareness manageable for players of all ages, and levels wind around themselves, requiring only a small amount of backtracking. However, those who do stray off the beaten path may uncover vents that lead to hidden rooms with secret weapon and space suit upgrades, as well as data files containing offbeat otter facts. Sure, there are times when Charlie needs to skin his smoke wagon and send a reflector beam ricocheting around a room of ghost cat heads in a destructive effort to clear some space, and sometimes a giant supercomputer has to be blowed up but good, but these instances feel more like punctuations; the main thrust of Space Otter Charlie is navigation — and the little otternaut’s movement is by far the game’s most satisfying element.
Working somewhat like a cross between Dandara and rocket barrel riding in the Donkey Kong Country series, getting around in Space Otter Charlie can feel like a floaty balancing act, and it’s fantastic. Charlie can stand on any flat surface and from there propel himself in any direction, with the lack of gravity allowing for continuous momentum that can only be interrupted by another solid object or a carefully timed correctional jet pack thrust. The whole thing can feel very awkward at first and is never able to be taken for granted (the slide ability never clicked for me), but later on, as the controls become more familiar, it’s extremely satisfying to thread narrow corridors and pull off evading loops, slingshotting around platforms like a satellite in orbit. There are a few sections that require a bit more precision than this gameplay can really handle comfortably, but thankfully they are few and far between, with decent checkpoints that ameliorate those sequences well enough. Instead, the majority of the time players will find themselves tactically bouncing from wall to wall to dodge flame spouts and otter-eating plants, coasting across open battlefields as they blast away at surrounding enemies, and fine-tuning their jet pack skills as they navigate laser nets and wind tunnels. It’s both relaxing and engaging, which makes for an experience that is quite addictive.
Unfortunately, the experience is also quite short. Space Otter Charlie will likely take most players a little over three hours to see everything the game has to offer. While there are over a dozen stages to explore, the main campaign requires only about half of those, while the side missions often take place in much smaller environments. Sure, there are those aforementioned upgrades and data files to collect — many of which prove quite useful and allow for experimentation with different weapon types — as well as bits of energy that help bring more anthropomorphic crew members aboard your spaceship, but even casual curiosity should put most of these useful items in players’ paths without too much meticulous combing. The fur can fly even more in a multiplayer mode that allows four players to face off in a laser-filled deathmatch, but it’s more of a bonus distraction than a content focus. By the end, it can feel like Space Otter Charlie is just breaking through the atmosphere, finally ready to reach for the stars.
And yet, it’s a testament to the gameplay that the first thing I did after watching the watery credits is dive right back in and launch a new game. Charlie is just too fun to control for his cosmic adventures to be over so soon. Hopefully, developer Wayward Distractions has more in store for its intrepid non-rodent; regardless, Space Otter Charlie will be an otter-ly pleasant cruise to take again and again — even on autopilot.