I don’t remember when I first saw about Affordable Space Adventures, but I know it’s been a long time coming (2012 I think?). Ever since then it’s been on and off the radar for a while. I mean, I’ve seen a few people excited for it’s release but it never got a real good push into the limelight. That’s a real shame because this is an indie gem if ever there was one.
The game is set up fantastically with you taking a trip to with Uexplore, a fictional space exploration company, to a distant planet some lightyears away. It’s presented in a fun, whimsical way that kind of makes you think of what it’d be like if Disney or some similar monolithic corporation booked space adventures. After a few short cutscenes you find yourself crash landed on this planet with minimal ship functionality and the goal of getting home.
It doesn’t hold your hand so much as it gives you a tool and briefly explains how it’s used. The puzzles got tough, but never impossible. KnapNok & Nifflas Games got a heck of a lot right when they developed this game. You can really tell this was a well thought out endeavor from beginning to end. Where this game stands out among quality Wii U titles is it’s absolute integration of the hardware. It will make you wish more titles made use of the gamepad like Affordable Space Adventures does.
Pieces of Portal’s Soul and Parts of Metroid’s Heart
It’d be remiss to talk about this game and NOT compare it to other greats. Somehow Affordable Space Adventures matches the eerie environments that we remember from Metroid games. There were moments where I was legitimately anxious about what was coming up, and that’s a feat for a game that’s mostly puzzles. And as far as puzzles go, I’d say it’s heading in the right direction. They were clever, some complex and multifaceted but I never felt frustrated by them. The solutions never became obvious in the late game, but thankfully it never created a manufactured difficulty that you’ll find elsewhere. If KnapNok & Nifflas Games take this game into another iteration I’d say it could get near to Portal levels of cleverness.
Fig. 1: Dat Lighting.
The art direction for this game is spot on. It matches the emotion perfectly, without going to realistic or cartoonish. By visual standards I say it’s up to par. Where it really stood out to me was with it’s lighting and particle effects. Light and lighting is such a key component in the game and I’m glad that they got it so right! I’d say most of the screen was in complete darkness through my play through, but the parts that I shone my little light on really shined. The lighting effects of environmental pieces were great too. Really it’s top notch. I can’t imagine that it’s a particularly taxing game for the Wii U to run, but it goes to show how much can be done when a developer knows what it’s doing.
You won’t get much for music. What does sound great is the background effects and ambient noise. Like with the visuals you’ll find that it only enhances the immersive moodiness of the experience. The sounds coming from the gamepad and tv screen are different as well, so while you hearing ambient whirs and crumbles on the television, you’ll hear beeps and bops (and eventually cracks) from the gamepad. Its just a small touch that adds to the overall imersive feeling.
Gameplay, Software, and Hardware Work in Unison
Like I said before: It will make you wish more titles made use of the gamepad like Affordable Space Adventures does. It never feels like functionality was added randomly or simply as a gimmick. Every part of the gamepad is used in a way that is difficult and grand and simple and understandable all at once. On top of the fantastic controls we have some co-op asymmetrical multiplayer going on, which I didn’t get to try out myself but can only imagine is a great time. The comparison has been made to the bridge a la Star Trek (think “Engage Thrusters”) sort of way, and that makes me that much more excited to experience that when I can get people over to play.
Fig. 2: The gamepad displaying vital engine functionality signs and scan data.
The gamepad’s screen is used to show off systems and scans in a straight forward way, so that you can easily understand threats and switch between systems at a glance. It’s done in such an elegant way that marries the gameplay, software, and hardware perfectly. I can’t give KnapNok & Nifflas Games enough praise for pulling this major part of the game off so well.
Gameplay wise, you’ll find that it’s been tweaked to perfection. Always stimulating and multifaceted, but never overwhelming. It introduces mechanics skillfully and smoothly. The enemies, if they can be called that, are made so that they add challenge instead of heaping anxiety and the game helps you better understand how to avoid them in conjunction with the gamepad. It’s difficult enough that you’ll fail a few times before truly understanding an area, mastering a mechanic, and feeling that much better when you complete the task at hand. All together solid.
I’ve also got to say that the final scene, gosh, it’s genius and hilarious and so so SO many things at once. I loved the way they used [redacted because you need to find out yourself] and turned it into a part of the game. Really the way they handled it was perfect and it closed out the game SO perfectly that it would be negligent of me to spoil it. Go experience the game yourself, if only for what happens.
Affordable Space Adventures is by no means a vapid experience. The gameplay is very solid and though it’s a bit short, it’s not exactly bite sized. It has soul. There is some story telling trying to make it’s way through. My issue was that it never got as much depth as it should have. I couldn’t figure out if it was a singular problem or three different issues, so I’ve decided to kind of treat it as three main points that can maybe be lumped together as one problem: Just short of perfect.
It Only Scratched the World’s Surface.
We never get to know who the aliens are that crash landed on the planet. We don’t know why they are hostile. We don’t know anything other than that they are obstacles and we need to get past them to the exit. The game is great, but I think what is keeping it from where I wanted it to go was that I never got to know the world I was traveling through. I love living in a game world. Understanding the creatures and cultures in it. Anyone who knows me knows the reason I love Metroid Prime is because of the scan visor and lore it created. It was a living, breathing world.
Fig. 3: We only get to see beautiful scenes like this for very short periods.
Unfortunately, the planet in Affordable Space Adventures was seemingly devoid of life. Most of the time was spent underground, but even on earth we see wild and fantastic creatures living there. I only got a glimpse of the planet as I neared the end of the game when it opened up to snow and ice and even there, nothing but desolation. I wish I could have had more time exploring the fantastic locals that the fictitious company “Uexplore” advertised. They showed pictures of oceans and dolphins and beautiful sunsets. Instead I got a lot of caves. Very pretty caves, but caves.
“uExplore” minus ‘explore’
Fig. 4: I’d have loved the option to go both forward AND underwater. Sadly I was only given one option.
Affordable Space Adventures... Uexplore... And I never got the free wheeling exploration I wanted the entire time. Don’t get me wrong, the places (caves mostly) it took me were beautiful. And I guess in the context of the gameplay I can see why it played out the way it did… I mean we were trying to escape a planet... Why would we detour for the scenery? But I feel like it’s a lost opportunity that the majority of the environments I was shuffled through (fairly linearly I might add) were caves. The environments created were beautiful, but the game ended up being stiflingly straight-forward. I’d have loved something a bit more open. Not completely, but just a way to travel between exotic locations. An interconnected game world with Beaches, Deserts, and Forests.
I was told I was going on an adventure. It was an adventure, but I was never allowed to leave the safety of the path in front of me.
One Tick Short of Personality
There’s a few games that have a ton of personality despite the main protagonist having no dialogue, again I cite Metroid and Portal. Metroid Prime gave Samus Aran more personality than any of the previous games in the series, and only through quick cutscenes and the occasional reflection in the visor. Samus is portrayed as bad-ass, and we get a sense of what she stands for, along with the scan visor fleshing out her world for us. In Portal, while we never get to hear Chell, we get a ton of personality in the game through the immaculately portrayed GLaDOS. She brought a humor and commentary throughout the game that was left out in Affordable Space Adventures for some reason.
That isn’t to say KnapNok & Niflas Games didn’t try. The loading screens between areas are a perfect example of where they started to build the personality of the game but, disappointingly, we never see it come together during gameplay. My thoughts would be hearing the ships computer talk to us, sort of like Samus’s gunship’s voice in Prime 3, mixed with a helpful but cheeky GLaDOS like personality. It’d given me a deeper connection to the game. Hearing it through the gamepad would have been the perfect solution to giving the game a little more personality.
Fig. 5: A clever and cheeky loading screen.
I’m being nitpick-y here, but the loading screens between areas took seemingly forever. Longer than you’d expect for an eShop title and it got a bit frustrating. The loading screens themselves are cheeky and clever. I’m glad they took KnapNok & Nifflas Games took the time and effort to make the game enjoyable, even in loading times, but I can’t help but think that there could have been a way to make the experience a little more seamless.
I really do recommend the game to anyone and everyone who owns a Wii U. It’s a tad short and a little linear, but those are minor gripes for a game that has otherwise fulfilled everything else it set out to do. It created impressive and unique gameplay. It is audibly and visually beautiful. It is a paragon for eShop titles and KnapNok & Nifflas Games should be intensely proud of what they’ve created. For $20 on the American eShop you are getting a game that is well thought out and developed, tailor-made for a fun experience on the Wii U. It’s truly a gem.