The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
The first of Rymdkapsel’s many challenges happens before you even fire up the game. For non-Swedish speakers, it takes some staring and sounding out just to pronounce the title. Then try to remember the exact name after you’ve put the game down for five minutes. It’s tough! Once you’re in the thick of battle, however, knowing how the title is spelled or pronounced doesn’t matter.
Rymdkapsel intrigues out of the gate with a unique blend of puzzle, strategy, and tower defense. Two tiny pixel minions rest on a small platform floating in the blackness of space. You drag randomized platforms (in familiar Tetris shapes) from the top of the screen and click them into place. The minions wake up and build according to your plans using the small cache of starter resources. Before you use these supplies up, you have to build an extractor to mine space minerals, a reactor to generate power, gardens to grow plants, kitchens to turn plants into food, and living quarters to expand your workforce. On top of growing the space station and its population, you also must defend it with laser turrets from roving space fleets that come with steadily increasing frequency and numbers. Once the enemy inevitably kills all of your minions, it’s game over.
In my first playthrough, I was just learning the ropes. I made some sloppy and inefficient paths in hindsight, but clicking together those familiar shapes sparked some nostalgia. My first fail resulted from using up all the resources in one mine without tapping into another. I couldn’t build anything else and was forced to restart. Subsequent playthroughs taught further lessons: research the four black monoliths on the edges of the map for powerups, cluster defense turrets as close as possible, and don’t go nuts on resource generation.
Despite getting more efficient with every attempt, it sucks to start over after an hour or more of playtime. Things go so slow in the beginning, and you can’t fast-forward the dull stuff. The map never changes, so only your strategy and the mix of the Tetris pieces add variation. Once I got better, problems with the mechanics surfaced. Puzzle pieces you’re dragging are hidden under your finger so you can’t see how they’re oriented, and rotating them around is a clumsy process. Every second wasted battling these mechanics means losing time before the next wave of enemies shows up. You also notice that minions are terribly inefficient. A procession of them might bring resources to a construction zone, but once the first guy tops off a specific required material, the rest stop what they’re doing and go try to pick up the next resource. Can’t they tell that the first guy has it covered and go grab something else before hiking across the whole space station? Plus, there’s got to be a better way to assign tasks. You have to swipe each minion individually through the various jobs, which takes ever longer the more of an army you build. How about an “all to defense” button, at least?
Perhaps the biggest disappointment is the long-term goals. You’re given three tasks to aspire to at the outset: research all monoliths, survive 28 waves, and research all monoliths in less than 45 minutes. Once I took the first one down I thought I’d unlock abilities or missions, but all I got was a lame checkmark next to the job. There’s nothing to do after you achieve these goals. There are no new map layouts, creative objectives, or even a leaderboard to see who can survive the most waves.
Rymdkapsel fizzles out with no fanfare. Players must provide their own motivation to best wave counts, and work on new strategies with payoffs or drawbacks that can’t be known until another hour of playtime passes. Rymdkapsel is a creative concept, but needs far more building out and polish to become a great game.