Disclosure: The author of this article was given a code for the game through KnapNok Games for the purpose of this review
Developer: KnapNok Games
Publisher: KnapNok Games
Platform: Wii U
There’s no getting away from the Wii U Gamepad’s lack of efficient variety in usage. Aside from the occasional neat mechanic or rudimentary storage for your map or inventory, one of Nintendo’s driving benefactors for their latest gaming machine has been relatively lacking as of late. Pushed to the shadows; confined to many a comment that it’s ‘comfy’ if not revolutionary. With that said, it’s always good to find developers still willing to invest in the Gamepad’s potential, regardless of whether their plans pull off or not. KnapNok Games are hoping that they not only give validity to the Gamepad’s place in 2015, but with Affordable Space Adventures, the premise is that the second-screen style of gameplay provides something more intuitive and enjoyable than an otherwise tacked-on gimmick. Understandably the concept of having to shift attention to two screens – from your main TV to the screen cradled in your hands – may put some off already, and with the way the game’s major mechanic (your ship’s control) are laid out, it’s easy to look at this as more a strain than anything else.
The reality is that KnapNok actually manage to sustain a considered-if-tentative balance between under and over utilizing the Gamepad throughout. Even before you take full control and find yourself clambering through the game’s hostile environment, the game seems to capture the kind of surreal intrigue through comedic and serious intent without over-committing to either or. Upon landing on the game’s chosen setting – a planet under custody of the fictional tourism company uExplore whom is shown via clear parodying of today’s standard of slick, glossy advertising – you’re left to fend for yourself after finding you’re in a situation that’s anything but that promised of the colourful promotions you, as a tourist-come-wannabe-explorer, likely signed up for. Like most 2D scrollers, the gameplay is mainly self-explanatory, requiring you to solve the occasional puzzle that blocks your way to carry on. Move a block, use a platform – it’s all simple enough to start with. But the tension mounts when you eventually come face to face (or as the case proves, advised to best avoid any confrontation due to your lack of offensive capabilities in your trustee steed) with the planet’s hostile security systems. If they spot you (a stunningly quick reaction aside) you’re dead…or rather, your ship is, but you get the idea. It’s game over.
This is where the Gamepad’s inclusion and the USP in Adventures’ gameplay comes into play. Overcoming these obstacles requires you to facilitate and alter your ship’s output depending on the enemy’s parameters. Scanning each hostile reveals their threshold – your objective lying in you finding a way to output the necessary energy whilst still under the target limit. The ship is divided into three main forms of energy for this purpose: sound, heat and electricity with two types of engines offered via a more conventional fuel/heat system and a space-age styled electrical form. Each of your ship’s components give off specific energy levels and vary therein depending on the amount of power you give them. Setting too many areas too high will result in your engine overheating, so it’s never a simple case of merely speed-running each predicament. It’s your duty, as the pilot, to work out the correct combination of resources and safely pass through undetected. Challenges liven up further in increased enemy numbers as well as puzzles that require quick reflexes and quicker tactical decision-making on where and when energy transfer is needed. While most of the game’s puzzles can be frustrating-but-fair in how well-timed the player needs to be, there are admittedly the odd sequences that make the visual hop from screen to screen a little frustrating – ultimately ending in mistiming a switch or getting caught in an enemy’s field of view whilst your readings still lie in the red.
Two screens can, occasionally, feel disconnecting and something of a major obstruction in-game. That said, most often than not the many closed-off areas (or levels as they are referred to) in the game offer large breadths of space for players to plan their strategy before undergoing execution. It’s more than likely players will sit for a brief spell going over a strategy with the Gamepad being their supposed drawing board and the game, fortunately, offers this pause for thought in abundance. How much can I sacrifice of this component to reduce this type of energy output? If I use this, will this suffice me lacking the ability to do that? While the many aspects to your ship may feel like there are multiple solutions, the reality is that there’s often only one maybe two combinations that work, but figuring the right formula never feels trivializing or hard to reach. What’s more, there’s a joy to be had in simply playing around, experimenting with your ship’s components and figuring out how they play a role with how your ship moves and controls, let alone figuring out the answer to an otherwise difficult stealth segment.
Ideally the scope of the game could have been better implemented had the large amount of static loading screens that break up each level be whittled down. While the more story-curious of you will take to each screen’s subtle details with a degree of beneficial skepticism, it still doesn’t excuse the cutting away from what is, as a whole, a very atmospheric and engrossing game to begin with. In the most darkest and confined of locales, your ship’s beam will be the only source of light. Couple that with the mangled debris, the subterranean settings and the indecipherable organisms of sorts that crop up in the backdrop, the intent may have been to uncover unexplored regions, but you may just be wishing for that trip back home sooner than you imagined. It’s this wittiness, as noted, in the game’s premise – a tourist holiday gone awry and the seemingly ignorant nature of the company who provided you the opportunity – that KnapNok deserve specific praise for in their delivery. Where games like Wolfenstein: The New Order are often criticized for getting it wrong by mixing seriousness with humour and never deciding on which of the two it wants to be, Adventures pieces itself (admittedly with the vaguest of plots) through clever use of fictional company marketing and the game’s contrasting presentation to leave the player flummoxed as to what’s happening around them. Without spoiling anything, one section in particular left me baffled but positively baffled.
Thus, from a technical stand-point, Affordable Space Adventures is proof that the Gamepad can be used in a way that is sensical but beneficial to the player’s experience from more than just an interactive basis. Seeing a solitary ship floating amidst the grand, muted, auspicious locale – and nothing more – is an unsettling but wonderfully pleasant sight to behold. Least of all, on a big TV screen with Gamepad in close company, the sense of adventure is seldom stripped away. To some of us the barrage of loading screens after each area may pull you too far from the game to go off ignored, and as a result the game does feel at times less this consistent World and more a network of fragmented sections. But finding myself constantly shifting my priorities over the Gamepad, keen to survive this terrible ‘holiday’ and trudge on, it’s the kind of nervous interactivity that only makes me sink deeper into a game of this intent. A flawed experience sure, but then again, your ship’s comically cheap, mass-produced nature isn’t ever going to come across as a marvel fighter. And I like that.