The Wii U GamePad is probably the most interesting controller, well, ever. Yet, while there have been instances of pure brilliance with the GamePad, most companies use it in a simple manner: a map, an inventory screen, or things of that nature. While that isn’t necessarily a bad thing—and it can actually be convenient—there hasn’t been enough experiences on the Wii U to make you say “hey, this game could only happen on THIS system.” Enter Affordable Space Adventures. Affordable Space Adventures has been at the forefront of the “Nindie” movement, with good promotion backing the game. But does it manage to live up to the lofty expectations?
Affordable Space Adventures starts out with a excellent intro that helps set the mood for the game. You are greeted to a presentation from a company called “Uexplore” which specializes in the creation of spacecraft, and also the monitoring of these ships. With a perfect track record of safety, there is nothing to be worried about when using one of their ships. Of course, right as the game starts out, you see this is not the case. With limited knowledge of your surroundings and limited use of the craft’s abilities, you set out in the planet of Spectaculon and try to figure out your escape.
The story of Affordable Space Adventures is mostly told through gameplay. The game doesn’t use traditional mechanisms of story telling, but instead challenges you to notice your environment, examine the manuals shown on the “loading” screen, and really take in the desolate world you are stuck in. Occasional cut scenes and story events do happen in the flow of the game, but the real meat of the story is just taking in your surroundings.
As stated earlier, you initially have only limited functionality of your spacecraft. That’s where the pacing of the game comes into play. I cannot remember the last time a game was paced so well. As you advance through the world, you are given access to new abilities for your craft. For instance, you start out with a single fuel engine and a scanner. But as you play throughout the game, you are granted access to more intricate parts of the engine, new engines, and much more. While on the surface the new additions to your craft may feel like mere conveniences, they are actually integral parts of the gameplay.
The world of Spectaculon is filled with alien technology, which incites the stealth mechanic of the game. Stealth is a huge part of the game, because your Uexplore vehicle doesn’t have any sort of attack. You have to sneak past passed the obstacles in your way by utilizing your ship. The game uses 3 main mechanics to dictate the actions of the enemy life form: Sound, Heat, and Electricity. For instance, some enemies are keen to sound, and if you make to much your ship gets shot down. Generating too much heat? You are getting shot down. The fun in the game is figuring out how to navigate past these and stay alive. By scanning the enemy, you are given a sensory area of where the enemy will attack. Keep it blue, and you are golden. If it turns red, then you are done for. Now this may seem confusing and hard to manage, so how exactly can you make critical decisions like this on the fly? Enter the GamePad.
The GamePad is the control of the ship. It has a layout which is completely interactive which makes adjusting things a breeze. Need to increase your speed to whiz past an enemy? Better adjust your thrust meter. Need to switch to a quieter engine? A simple press of the engine power on will do that. You control the ship with the analog stick, and later in the game the trigger buttons get a minimal use, but the GamePad screen is the core of the gameplay. It really feels like you are controlling a spaceship with all the abilities and controls at your disposal. The game offers a handy “help” button as well just in case you need some clarification as to what each ability does to make your space travel more safe. The GamePad helps suck you in to Affordable Space Adventures in a way that not many other Wii U games can.
The game is a lengthy experience too, and really extends when you are trying to figure out the puzzle of getting past an enemy. The difficulty curve is just right: not too hard at the start, but not too punishing towards the end. The most impressive thing in Affordable Space Adventures is that no matter how hard a situation seems, there is always a simple and logical explanation on how to advance throughout the area. The game never becomes frustrating to the point of where you don’t want to play it anymore. I recall one instance in particular where I couldn’t for the life of me figure out the solution to the puzzle, but I kept playing. I never got frustrated or annoyed as the time passed, because it really is so much fun trying to figure out the right option for the task at hand.
You might think with all the attention to detail in the gameplay, that the graphics may have been a secondary though in the game. That’s not the case, however, at all. If your ship gets too hot, you will see flames emerging from it. The world of Spectaculon is a mysterious and gorgeous planet, with tons of variety and attention to detail found throughout. While the enemies may be a bit lackluster, the environments are just amazing to look at and rich in detail. The audio department has tons of attention to detail as well. While there is no music within the game, the voice acting in the limited cut scenes is fantastic. Each engine has a unique sound to it, and there are little details such as the sound of windshield wipers when in a rainy area that just show how much care went into this game.
There is multiplayer in the game as well, with up to 3 people playing locally. Think of it like your ship crew: each person does a task of the ship. For instance, one person will be the one who scans objects while the other person uses the GamePad to control things. While I wasn’t able to try out a full 3 player experience, co-op did lead to some fun moments and tense situations. I personally preferred playing by myself because I’m a control freak, but with the right crew members it can be a very rewarding experience.
As far as drawbacks are concerned, there aren’t many. Aside from the slightly uninspired enemies, there is the occasional graphical glitch or slight stutter in the framerate when getting shot down. These instances are few and far between, but when they occur, they do tend to draw you out of the world of Affordable Space Adventures just slightly. A few of the puzzles can be maddeningly difficult to figure out the solution to, and while personally I enjoyed it, some players with less patience may find themselves having to take more breaks than others.
Affordable Space Adventures is an indie title with a $20 price tag, and that may make some would-be purchasers leery of the investment. I can say with full confidence that the price tag is not only justified, but might even be too low. Big studios never took the time to flesh out the GamePad and see what it was possible of doing, but Affordable Space Adventures shows why the Wii U GamePad exists: to provide an experience that can only be done on the console. Take the plunge, spend the $20, and get lost in the world of Spectaculon to play one of the finest Wii U titles to date.