An inventive Space RPG with some extra baggage.
Space Commander: War and Trade makes the jump from a free-to-play mobile game to a traditionally priced eShop title. We’ve seen a few previously mobile space sims make their way to Switch over the last few years with varying degrees of success. However Space Commander brings along a fair amount of actual innovation that may help it stand out from the crowd.
Space Commander is a 3D Space shooter with a strong focus on economy, trade, and building your own personal squadron of fighters. At the outset you’ll be given a very basic fighter, and be tasked with a few different quest types to get a hang of the gameplay loop. The world is broken up into bespoke 3D environments which are traveled between using a map. Some of these are deep space, while others are on the surface of planets. The majority of selectable areas on the map will also include a station where you can repair your ship, buy and sell various goods, refuel, and pick up jobs. Flying anywhere uses up fuel. You can fly slower and use up less fuel, but plotting a course that will take you longer than fifteen hours will increase your chances of being intercepted by pirates, who you’ll have to fight off before you can move on. Unless you come out of this fight perfectly unscathed, you’ll wind up needing to repair your ship at the next stop in addition to refueling it.
The biggest issue facing Space Commander is its economy. It is, simply, too harsh. Just taking a little damage on your ships will often negate whatever payoff you get from completing the job. Heaven forbid you actually lose a ship or two or need to fill up your missiles, then you may find yourself in debt to a repair shop, which will require you to pay double. Space Commander’s economy feels like it was designed to be a pay to win game, because it was. Most of the time I notice this when a game overcorrects its economy and gives you too much money. In Space Commander’s case it feels like they took away the option to buy my way out with real world money but didn’t replace it with an in-game option. Ultimately this left me relying on the most boring part of the game, simply buying and selling goods from one station to another to make a profit that hopefully outweighed my fuel cost. It makes taking on contracts from the job board an actively bad idea.
On the flip side, if you can scrounge up enough spare change, Space Commanders most interesting and unique mechanic is the way it handles owning multiple ships. Where in other space sims, buying a new ship either swaps out your old one or puts your old one in a garage, in Space Commander your new ship is just added to your squadron. You can have up to four ships actively in your squadron and switch between them freely during combat. When you’re not directly in control of a ship it will be piloted automatically and can even be given basic orders to prioritize certain targets and use certain weapons. Building up and upgrading your squadron is by far the best part of the experience. It takes space combat and gives you a party to control a bit like an action RPG.
Combat itself is passable if somewhat simple. This isn’t a full 6-degrees of movement style space sim like Rebel Galaxy Outlaw or Everspace, think instead of all range mode in Star Fox. You can move in all directions but you can’t pull up to the point of flying inverted in the opposite direction. When close enough to any enemy you can lock onto them which automatically pilots your ship to tail them. This almost feels unfair as the enemy AI isn’t good enough to shake you or even accelerate and come back around straight at you. Unless they have a tail gun you’re pretty safe and can take your time shooting them down. Enemy capital ships are a bit more interesting and the lock allows you to target various points across the larger ships. Combat overall isn’t bad but after a few hours it starts to feel very repetitive with only the large capital ships posing much of a challenge.
Outside of the economy, the various mechanics that make up Space Commander range from passable to genuinely inventive. All the pieces are here for an excellent entry level space sim but the horrible economy just drags the entire experience to a halt and makes it feel like much more of a grind than it ought to be. With some very small changes Space Commander could be excellent. As is, it will have some appeal to enthusiasts like myself, but for most there will be other space sims on Switch that will scratch the same itch much better.