Affordable Space Adventures | Principal Platforms: Wii U | Developer: KnapNok Games, Nifflas’ Games | Publisher: KnapNok Games, Nifflas’ Games | Genre: Adventure, Puzzle | Year: 2014
The riddle of the Wii U Gamepad has scared away many a video game developer in its time, so much so that certain companies are actually teaming up in an effort to crack it. Enter KnapNok Games and Nifflas’ Games; an alliance of European developers determined to really make something of Nintendo’s curious gadget. Affordable Space Adventures is the fruits of their labour; a physics-based puzzler with elements of exploration and stealth thrown in for good measure.
Players take control of a miniature spaceship called the Small Craft and must navigate the many treacherous caverns of Planet Spectaculon on the world’s most dangerous package holiday. Using the Wii U Gamepad as a Head-down-Display, you’ll regulate the thrusters, antigravity, landing gear, and the many miscellaneous systems that will help you stay mobile.
This is all well and good, but many automated defence drones call Spectaculon home and they won’t hesitate to attack once they detect you. Turrets, mines, and sentry robots are on the prowl and each one has a detection radius that measures the output of your ship as it passes by. If your craft is running too hot or too loud for instance, then the trap will be triggered and you can bet that you’ll be reloading a checkpoint shortly after.
From blown fuses to reactor shutdowns, the number of challenges you must contend with are almost endless. Affordable Space Adventures is refreshingly difficult in this regard and there’s no doubting the immense satisfaction that you feel when overcoming one of the game’s 38 different levels.
The learning curve is unpleasantly steep in the beginning though as it doesn’t take long for the early puzzles to ramp up in terms of complexity. The Small Craft’s systems are gradually brought online as the game progresses (so as not to overwhelm you from the offset), but the haphazard signposting still makes it difficult to remember how those systems interact with each other. This is a slow game to get started too and even though levels are short enough to make progress feel satisfying, the loading screens between them are just long enough to be irritating.
Stylistically speaking, Affordable Space Adventures is reminiscent of Disney’s WALL-E and it’s an influence you can see in both the loading screen visuals and the tongue-in-cheek cutscenes. Don’t let those peppy interludes fool you though; this game is pretty spooky for the most part and you can never be quite certain of what lurks around the next corner. A superb ambient soundtrack contributes to this ominous atmosphere; a world where your miniature craft can be blasted, frozen, or otherwise scrubbed from existence at a moment’s notice.
The main selling point of Affordable Space Adventures is its local cooperative gameplay that supports up to three players (a genuine rarity). One person becomes the pilot—using a Wii Remote or Pro Controller to steer the ship; one person is the science officer—they also use a Wii Remote or joypad to operate the scanner; and one person assumes the role of engineer—operating all of the ship’s key systems and parameters from the Wii U Gamepad itself. The role of science officer is arguably a bit dull in comparison to the other two, but playing with others is still highly entertaining. Like all good cooperative modes, communication is key to victory and it’s a facet that leads to many of the game’s loudest triumphs and hilarious failures.
Another aspect worth mentioning is the complete lack of collectibles. Collectibles aren’t the sort of thing you would normally see in a puzzle game, granted, but it’s still a smart omission that makes exploration in this atmospheric world feel more organic. The levels here are more than just tombs waiting to be ransacked, they are locations full of nothing but mystery and players who look close enough may notice the hints of a deeper story. Affordable Space Adventures even indulges in a bit of fourth wall trickery towards the end of its run, though fortunately it’s done with enough restraint and good taste to send players away happy.
Indeed, being happy with such a well-meaning game is easy to an extent, but it’s still one that’s made to please a particular type of player. There’s no getting away from the fact that Affordable Space Adventures is a dry experience overall. This is a niche title; one with a low fun factor aimed at those who enjoy hard puzzles and atmosphere over raw spectacle and nonstop thrills. For most people this game is not what you’d call a “safe” purchase. The game’s price tag on the Nintendo eShop is ironically steep for one and its free DLC pack (which is still an awesome inclusion) only cements how specific the appeal really is.
Along with several welcome bug fixes, the free DLC adds a new chapter called Origin Story, although I definitely would have gone with the title of “Oh No! More Space Adventures”. This is because the five Origin Story levels are incredibly difficult and require absolute mastery of the game’s systems in order beat. It’s very much an ‘experts only’ affair and even if the base game isn’t anywhere near as hard, it’s still a very tough game to see through to the end. There’s a “tourist” mode to make things easier on players who are struggling, but the strongest satisfaction might only come when playing on the game’s default “technical” difficulty setting.
It’s clear that the Wii U needed more of this brilliant risk-taking though. Like an inert hulk of interstellar junk, Nintendo’s Gamepad experiment seems to have drifted through life with the star-crossed hope that someone, anyone, will come along looking to salvage it.
Affordable Space Adventures is not the most accessible game to respond to that distress call, but it is one of the most charming and technically accomplished.