By affordable, we mean the Yugo of space travel.
Affordable Space Adventures was the most delightful Wii U surprise I saw at GDC this year. A collaboration between KnapNok Games, who have put out some very interesting alternative control multiplayer games like Spin the Bottle and Johann Sebastian Joust, and Nifflas, developer of Knytt Underground, have teamed up to create a wholly new and unique experience.
In Affordable Space Adventures, you control a beat up old spaceship that’s just crash-landed on a hostile planet, a claustrophobic place that would feel at home in the Metroid universe. The GamePad acts as your ship’s computer, and systems are slowly restored as you progress. At first, you can only use basic thrusters and a spotlight and must navigate through tunnels and caves, with the left control stick managing thrust and the right control stick, your headlights. Everything else is broken, including stabilizers, which really makes it feel like you’re controlling a junker. Starting the engine even sounds like a barely functional car gasping for life, and the computer humorously appears to boot up an old BIOS. Even after the engine gains more power, it overheats rapidly.
Though the camera portrays a third-person side view, the dark and atmospheric nature of the game and the barely functional computer make for an immersive experience. As you progress, more systems come online, but also various lasers and security measures make the adventure more difficult. An ever-growing variety of ship functions allows you to find new ways of getting around. For example, you can’t use your engines underwater, but you can use another device that increases your mass in order to sink and float through underwater caverns. Other devices include a Metroid Prime-style scanner, which is needed to avoid proximity sensors, and an electric engine.
Up to three people can take different parts of the ship’s controls, making for a coordination challenge, and adding to the immersiveness of controlling a barely functioning ship on a desolate planet. While one person controls the computer, another can control the engines, and a third can target. You’ll need lots of cooperation to solve the puzzles, such as one I played involved pushing boxes to the correct locations in order to ricochet beacons at the right angle to hit switches and open doors.
Affordable Space Adventures is a moody ordeal made fun by virtue that it makes you feel the space analog of coaxing a lemon down the highway -- in the best possible way. The lighting effects bring the shadowy world to life, and the use of the Wii U features, both in single and multiplayer, make the experience not only possible, but adds a particular realism that finds just the right balance of complexity and function.