Affordable Space Adventures is a much-welcome Wii U eShop exclusive, adding to an ever-increasing range of quirky and interesting digital offerings on Nintendo’s home console. More than anything, it is the kind of game that really showcases the Wii U’s infamously underused GamePad; and that is something we desperately need more of.
This is a game that simply could not survive without the second screen of the Wii U GamePad, and is all the better for it. You are at the helm of a small (and affordable!) spaceship whose flight on the planet of Spectaculon went a bit awry and is trying to find its way home. Your GamePad is effectively your ship controls, while the action is displayed in 2D on your TV screen. Booting up engines, controlling the settings of those engines, and using other useful tools all goes through the controller in your hands.
In co-op, this is made more evident. You can team up with one or two friends, splitting up the controls; for example, when I played with a friend, they were effectively the pilot controlling movement on the TV while I used the GamePad screen to help him get past obstacles and enemies. This asks for a level of audible teamwork that many people looked forward to from the Wii U, as local co-operation is critical. Syncing up with other players is tough, but rewarding and natural.
A large portion of the game is dedicated to sneaking past sensors and enemies, with the three main dials on the GamePad indicating how much sound, heat and electricity you are making or using, as well as what quantity of each will get you noticed by nearby enemies. Manipulating everything at your disposal to progress in the game leaves the player with a satisfactory feeling of having cleverly out-witted the game. Certain stages also open up another dynamic when the main goal shifts to enduring harsh temperatures as opposed to only avoiding hostile enemies, leaving the player with having to focus on increasing their chances of survival, as opposed to decreasing the odds of detection.
You progressively open up more options for your spaceship as you play and the game introduces them to you really well. At the beginning of the game you could criticise it for going too slow, as you fly through mainly empty levels with one small challenge to teach you something. This could easily have been done in a more condensed way, but when you and the game get up to speed this greatly improves. You will start by using something new on its own, before being introduced to situations where you have to think more about how to utilise it – and how it combines with the rest of your arsenal. Difficulty can be a large problem in puzzle-based games like this, as a single puzzle can easily result in you getting stuck and turn you off the game. Even when I got stuck on a puzzle, however, the game has clever difficulty settings. By simply turning the difficulty down from “Technical” to “Tourist”, you still have a challenge but it makes it easier to continue; in one case, it reduced the amount of enemies in a location and made the right path appear clearer to me.
Something else that sets Affordable Space Adventures apart is its presentation. Your little spaceship originates from an Earth-based company (called UExplore, I wonder where the “U” came from…) that advertises them as essentially tourism craft (if this is what happens to you, then please never make this real, people). At milestones in the game you get to see advertisements – basically infomercials – from the company that successfully breaks up the tone of the game. A lot of the time, you find yourself travelling through some pretty quiet environments and having these bright and clean commercials relieves some of the tension. There are plenty of other nice touches too, such as the spaceship handbooks in loading screens between levels.
Even this attention to detail transfers over to the second screen experience. As I reached the end of the game, the sense of progression really hit me. This game is all about trying to get home in the face of almost insurmountable adversity – falling down and rising up in more ways than one. As you get closer and closer to the final destination, you come across many setbacks and your GamePad screen represents how battered your craft has gotten through the adventure. Cracks appear, systems malfunction when struck, and sometimes you have to reboot the spaceship through your GamePad. It’s these little additions that really add to the experience.
The detail translates to the in-game visuals too, most of the time. The aformentioned empty-feeling levels at the beginning of the game aren’t helped by a very dark, dull aesthetic. This makes it look a bit like a generic space-based game at that point but as you play the visuals get much more visually various. Strange technologies and plants can be fascinating and creepy at the same time, especially the vine-like plants that reach out and grab you (and, it seems, eat you. Ew.)
As you can tell by the review thus far, Affordable Space Adventures is fantastic to play. Ironically however, I can’t end this review without complaining about its affordability. At £16.99 ($19.99/€18.99), this game is on the higher end for an eShop-only game and you might say “Fine, I’m paying for quality”, but I finished my playthrough in under six hours and there are no extra modes or difficulties unlocked by finishing this game; so £16.99 for under six hours is on the pricey end.
It’s got the Space and Adventures parts nailed, but it is a great shame that Affordable Space Adventures couldn’t quite get the Affordable part right. Nevertheless, this is the kind of game we needed back at the Wii U’s launch, as it shows why and how the GamePad can be used to create a new and fantastic type of game. This game is right up there with the best uses of the GamePad, but the longevity and affordability of the game lets it down a bit.
Disclosure: A download code of Affordable Space Adventures was supplied to us by KnapNok Games for the purposes of this review.