Mankind had once dared to dream beyond the stars. Our curiosity was fuelled by telescopes, culminated with man stepping on the Moon, and has been furthered by probes and unmanned robots searching for any evidence of life. But, it will sadly be an incredibly long time before we ever get to go exploring ourselves.
That’s a desire that KnapNok Games and Nicklas “Nifflas” Nygren look to accomplish with their collaborative effort, Affordable Space Adventures. There’s no Vulcan mind meld here, KnapNok’s inquisitively creative approach toward implementing unique control interfaces (already seen in Spin the Bottle: Bumpie’s Party) perfectly synchronised with Nifflas’ skill in conjuring atmospheric worlds riddled with puzzles at every turn.
Your immersion begins with Uexplore’s cheery overview video, painting a picture of a futuristic Ryanair that sends you off to explore distant alien worlds on their well-equipped, but worryingly rickety, Small Craft™. Customers needn’t worry about discovering an unexplored planet for themselves either, with Uexplore sending you merrily toward one that they’ve named Spectaculon.
Located 23 light years away it’s described as being safe, beautiful, alluring and amazing – the sales lure being that 99 percent of the planet is uncharted, with wannabe explorers that map an area first being promised that they can claim it as their own. These trips are supposed to last 72 hours, after which Uexplore’s drop ship returns to collect and fly you homeward.
It soon becomes clear that Spectaculon isn’t as safe as Uexplore made out. Ravaged by perpetual thunderstorms, the drop ship carrying your Small Craft has crash landed – seeing you dangling from the damaged container by a power cable. With Uexplore OS 3.12 Small Craft edition suddenly rebooting on the Wii U GamePad your adventure begins, becoming less concerned with sitting out the 4-hour long repair procedure and more with requesting rescue at one of the company’s Concern Communication pods.
What follows is a memorable journey peppered with momentary hesitation as you negotiate hazardous environments, deduce solutions to ponderous puzzles, and scurry past alien artifacts scattered 150 years ago after a gigantic star cruiser collided with the planet. KnapNok Games welcomingly catering to two audiences with separate Technical and Tourist difficulty levels, the latter reducing the number of complex puzzles that you will face.
It’s the Heads Down Display that is the game’s main attraction, Wii U GamePad integration that goes way beyond expectation and shows how a considered approach can take Nintendo’s hardware to new heights. As your systems slowly come online, this display acts as a touchscreen interface that allows you to activate any that you require. Whether that be switching between the Fuel Engine and Electric Engine, using the Mass Generator to sink underwater or deploying landing gears that let you stick or slide along your surroundings, pilots can increase each system’s power at the risk of overheating the engine. Each system outputs sound, heat and electricity and monitoring the levels emitted will become a necessity to sneak past the defensive artifacts that often block your path – your scanner letting you see the precise area that they guard.
Everything really enters its own in co-operative multiplayer: the GamePad-wielder taking responsibility of the Small Craft’s systems as the Engineer, recruiting up to two crewmen to become your Pilot and Science Officer. With Wii U Pro Controller and Wii Remote + Nunchuk schemes supported, one directly takes control of flying the ship while the other uses the scanner to illuminate your surroundings. It’s unsurprising to discover that co-operation is key to success, although there’s plenty of resulting hilarity after a disastrous manoeuvre.
It isn’t an entirely smooth flight proven by inconsistencies with imprecision in attempting the physics-based puzzles on my playthrough, whereas loading screens between each level notably detract from the immersion – even though they playfully present pages torn from the Small Craft manual, with Uexplore’s Splory mascot lending humorous tips. That this manual is replicated in the Wii U menu only goes to demonstrate KnapNok’s attention to detail, complete with a Before Flying Check List and guidelines on where the Glove Box and Ashtray are among others.
Affordable Space Adventures‘ resulting concoction is a remarkably memorable experience every Wii U owner should savour. Remarkable in its technical accomplishment, memorable for being unlike anything that’s come before, and an experience to be savoured in amounting to an inventive tour de force that realises the Wii U GamePad’s potential in ways that we largely haven’t seen outside of Ubisoft’s ZombiU. (And that was a launch title…) If anything there’s enviable groundwork here for more ‘Affordable’ adventures, and we certainly wouldn’t hesitate to hop aboard the next – perils or not!