Affordable Space Adventures’ biggest mistake is that it lets you play alone. The Wii U–exclusive puzzle game, built as a collaboration between Danish studio KnapNok games and Swedish freeware legend Nifflas, technically supports anywhere from one to three players, but it’s such a drastically different and more enjoyable experience with one or two partners by your side that the single-player support almost feels like an afterthought.
Allow me to explain. See, no matter how many people are involved, Affordable Space Adventures always tasks you with escorting a single tiny spaceship through hostile alien environments. Though lacking in any offensive capabilities, your ship has two engines (one gas, one electric) and a multitude of subsystems to micromanage, all ripped from the best science-fiction clichés. Making your way through each level is a matter of using all the toys at your disposal to overcome obstacles and sneak past alien relics, which are closer to shoot-first, ask-questions-later robots than their passive name implies.
If you’re flying solo, everything is mapped to the Wii U’s GamePad. You use the touchscreen to toggle various systems on and off, the left thumbstick to fly around, and the right one to aim your flashlight—a crucial tool, both in navigating the frequently near-pitch-black environments, and in scanning relics to see what their sensors are looking for. It’s a lot to handle at once, but the design is so ingeniously tied to the Wii U’s strengths that it’s never overwhelming.
If anything, the opposite is too often true. Most of the time, solving Affordable Space Adventures’ puzzles on your own feels like a predictable and fairly proscriptive mix-and-match of the ship’s gear. There’s little room for creative solutions, and any difficulty that crops up in the later levels usually come down to performing the complex series of steps necessary to triumph, not in actually figuring out what to do.
That’s a big problem for any puzzler, and an even bigger one here because Affordable Space Adventures never fully figures out how to incorporate more than a handful of its tricks into any one solution. You’ll swap between engines to mask your heat or EMF or sound signatures a few times. You’ll tow a handful of boxes by deploying the sticky landing gear. You’ll close your heat vents and rush past an enemy before your engines go up in flames. Those are fine building blocks for individual puzzles, but the greatest games in the genre spend their running times building you to insane, mind-bending solutions you wouldn’t have thought of unless you’d spent the whole journey learning to think on their terms. Affordable Space Adventures has no such maestro moment. It’s all bits and pieces.
None of that matters quite as much when you’re playing in co-op, though, because that’s where the game’s most brilliant decision comes to life. As more people join, the game simply divvies up the responsibilities of running the ship—toggling systems, flying the ship, and operating the flashlight—among everyone. With three people playing, whoever’s using the GamePad just worries about the touchscreen, with the actual flying and flashlight duties deliberated to the other two players on Pro Controllers or Wiimotes. Since the puzzles themselves don’t change, the game is still very much about executing the solution rather than discovering it, but that execution becomes so much more electric. It’s like being in a low-budget, low-stakes version of Star Trek, with the engineer and the pilot and the navigator all barking out orders back and forth, trying to work as one cohesive unit to make it out of peril.
There’s a real charm there, and it’s all in the social friction of trying to come together for a single purpose when no one person can accomplish much alone. I don’t think I ever expected to play a game that had me shouting desperately at EGM news editor and then-engineer Chris Holzworth to give the engines more power so I could steer us out of the gravitational pull of an enemy. It’s silly, yes, but the best moments in Affordable Space Adventures make you set that self-conscious part of yourself aside and believe, for just a moment, that you’re Sulu or Chekov or Scotty, each of you with a little piece of Kirk inside.
The point is, Affordable Space Adventures is a truly novel co-op game. It’s just a shame that it functionally accomplishes that by splitting up a mediocre single-player experience. There’s something about it that feels a bit lazy and uninspired, like if Portal 2 had implemented co-op by simply letting one person shoot blue portals and the other orange. I can’t help but feel that the game would’ve left a much better impression on me if I hadn’t tried out single-player at all.
Still, there’s just no denying that Affordable Space Adventures is, at the very least, a cleverly designed game that could only exist on the Wii U. It’s refreshing to see someone making good use of the hardware even as Nintendo seems content to let their innovative controller’s potential remain largely untapped. Though it can’t completely make up for its odd-duck status as a game that would’ve been better off omitting single-player entirely, the innovation of it all certainly eases the blow. And if you can rustle up a friend or two to help man the ship, it’s certainly an adventure worth taking.
If you’re measuring with the typical genre yardstick, Affordable Space Adventures isn’t a particularly great or noteworthy puzzle game, but as an exercise in designing to the Wii U’s strengths and delivering an entertaining, one-of-a-kind co-op experience, it’s a pretty solid success.
KnapNok Games, Nifflas' Games
E – Everyone
|Affordable Space Adventures is available on Wii U. Primary version played was for Wii U. Product was provided by KnapNok Games for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.|