Affordable Space Adventures
With the exception of some games coming directly from Nintendo, the Wii U has generally not lived up to its multiscreen potential. Most developers are ignoring the console and its novel abilities, which is what makes Affordable Space Adventures exciting. KnapNok Games has created something specific to Nintendo’s hardware, and it feels innovative in a way few have been able to achieve on Wii U.
Affordable Space Adventures puts players in control of a ship from the Uexplore Company. The intro is a time-share-style vacation enticing you to explore the galaxy in one of Uexplore’s extremely safe (a detail the commercial cannot stress enough) ships. These safety claims are clearly disingenuous, since the first task of your adventure is to remove yourself from the rubble of a catastrophic wreck.
You have full control of your ship as you move in two-dimensional space. This is the action you see on the main screen, but the GamePad opens up a whole separate perspective. To avoid the assorted enemies, solve puzzles, and make your way through the world, you manipulate various engine-related options on the GamePad and monitor the sound, heat, and electricity output of your ship.
You have an electric engine and a gas engine, each with separate variables like anti-gravity and thrust to turn up and down. Some enemies respond to sound, so you have to make your engine quiet to sneak by. Others react to heat, so you want to switch over to your electric engine. Some may respond to everything, forcing you to shut down your engine altogether and use your landing gear to slide by unnoticed. Avoiding these enemies is where the bulk of puzzle solving is found, but you also activate switches, jump through portals, block deadly lasers, and relocate blocks as you make your way to the end.
With the exception of a few of the face buttons having dedicated functions and moving your ship through the environment, everything happens on the GamePad. In most cases, it’s fine to pause in front of a puzzle, figure out what you need to turn on and off, and move forward. Sometimes, however, you must manipulate the meters and keep moving forward all at once, which is where things can become cumbersome.
A possible solution to the chaos is using the optional three-player mode. One player controls the movement of the ship, one controls the GamePad functions, while another scans and fires off flares to activate switches. I appreciate how this mode forces players to work together and communicate, but it always feels like somebody (usually the scanner/flare player) is left without much to do. Despite the advantage of having three people’s efforts, it is much easier to organize all the functions on your own.
Beyond the gameplay functions of the GamePad, some well-executed world building happens on the small screen. On a few occasions, your ship totally shuts down, and you see the old, classic Windows-inspired operating system as it boots up. The screen also cracks (and stays cracked) as you barely evade increasingly harrowing situations. The television screen may show what’s happening, but the GamePad does a good job making you feel like you’re actually at the helm of the questionable vessel.
The story is limited from moment to moment, pushing to convince the player they are alone and without help. The Uexplore Company comes across as a sinister corporation with a friendly face, recalling fictional companies like Portal’s Aperture Science. The ending in particular does a great job showcasing the bizarre ineptitude of the company – and it uses the Wii U’s Miiverse in an awesome way that I won’t spoil.
Affordable Space Adventures is a great puzzle game, and it uses the GamePad in interesting ways that don’t feel like gimmicks. It shows Nintendo isn’t the only studio capable of doing interesting things with an additional screen. It’s nice to see the Wii U become home to a truly exclusive title trying to do something different.
Affordable Space Adventures makes you wonder why the Wii U hasn’t been home to more innovative releases.