Affordable Space Adventures Review – GamePad of Excellency

The Nintendo eShop is home to many different titles; some less-than-stellar overall, while others shine through the plethora of games made available. It is also home to some fantastic console exclusives, like Shovel Knight, Armillo, Cubemen 2, The Fall, Elliot Quest, and Tengami. The next in the lineup of exclusives, Affordable Space Adventures, is now upon us; has Knap Nok Games created a gem which fits into the list of indie exclusives, or is it an adventure better left behind?


Visuals – 9.75/10
Simply put, ASA has both amazing visuals and art design. Though the game is 2D, the backgrounds and environments created give quite a bit of depth, adding to the visual flare. From the very moment I began my first play-through, I was quite impressed by how the game looked from both a graphical and design viewpoint.

Though I did run across a few hiccups in the generally smooth frame rate, overall ASA continued to impress me until the very end. My fear was that the game might become visually tedious; re-hashing the same level designs or using “fillers” to present the feeling of having more actual game. Thankfully, this is definitely not the case, since each level has it’s own unique look and feel. Yes, some levels are similar to each other in the sense of landscape (they often blend into each other, especially in the later levels), but it never feels stagnant or re-used.

ASA is a great looking game, both graphically and in art direction
ASA is a great looking game, both graphically and in art direction

There was one moment later in the game that really pointed out why I enjoyed the art design in the game. I was cruising along, preparing for the next puzzle, when I noticed the wall in the background was doing something odd. I stopped, in order to focus on the oddity, and realized that the wall of the spacecraft (or whatever it was) I was in was constantly shifting, creating a very cool animation all throughout the background. But, it didn’t stop there: once I realized that portions of the wall were shifting, I also noticed a differently colored/patterned section of the wall was doing something completely different. I saw what looked to be like many circular locks spinning in conjunction with each other in timed moments, all while the other parts of the background were shifting. Steam blew off some pipes in the foreground, while the lighting effects from my scanner covered every ounce of the landscape to make sure I wouldn’t miss anything.

One other aspect of the art direction I immensely enjoyed were the cutscenes that progressed the story further. Though using stills, excellent voice overs and writing help to make this sci-fi story come to life. If you’ve ever seen the movie “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” I equated the feel the developers created to be in a similar vein to the narration in that film. I greatly enjoyed that the cutscenes were just as purposefully created and planned out as the audio cues (which I’ll get to); nothing felt cheap or lackluster in terms of development, even though they were just various stills with narration over top of them (made to feel like “affordable” promotions). Even the loading screens are well done stills that give the game more character, and sometimes add to the storyline a bit.

The attention to detail in ASA is simply astounding, and they are easy to miss if you don’t, essentially, “stop to smell the roses.” Thankfully, the game has a bit of a slower pace, so many times I was able to notice the subtleties in visuals. In short, ASA is a darn good-looking title in every aspect. Graphically gorgeous, well designed models, and superb art direction really exude the sci-fi nature at the core of this title. Outside the few frame rate hiccups, I couldn’t really find anything to dislike.

The lighting effects in ASA are superb
The lighting effects in ASA are superb

Audio – 10/10
The best way to describe the audio usage in ASA, for both compositions and audio cues, is that it’s implemented tastefully. In reality, there isn’t an enormous amount of music, but when it is used, it truly hits the sweet spot. The same applies to general audio cues; the bangs of a metal hull you’re traveling through, the ambient noise being muffled when entering water or a gelatinous substance (yes, you read that right), the sputtering of your gas engine attempting to start – everything is very purposefully placed.

This is a perfect example that more does not always equal better. What matters with audio implementation in a game is how it is used, and when it is used. With ASA, I legitimately couldn’t find any flaws in the audio. The music is well done and fits into the aesthetic of the game overall (visuals, story, gameplay), and the many audio cues memorably add to the gameplay experience. It’s hard to describe how well the audio is used in the game, since where it shines through is in experiencing it alongside the story being told and the gameplay. So, I’ll simply say this: the audio in ASA is expertly crafted and used incredibly well.

I greatly enjoyed the promo cutscenes, which add to the story and atmosphere of the game
I greatly enjoyed the promo cutscenes, which add to the story and atmosphere of the game

Gameplay – 9.75/10
To add onto the sleek production value of the visuals and audio, the gameplay for ASA is extremely well thought out and executed. The player navigates their Small Craft through 38 levels across an unidentified planet. The GamePad is used as the touch screen navigation control for the Small Craft, and this is where ASA truly shines through the list of excellent indie titles on the eShop.

Knap Nok uses the GamePad incredibly well; even better than many of Nintendo's attempts
Knap Nok uses the GamePad incredibly well; even better than many of Nintendo’s attempts

On the GamePad, there are various controls that eventually fill up the touch screen, which the user will need to master in order to best the excellent puzzles throughout the entirety of ASA. The left joystick moves the craft around, while the right joystick controls the scanner (which acts as a light, an actual scanner, and a way to fire non-lethal projectiles). Each button does something different, which are implemented as the player continues on in their adventure. Now, the screen houses various gauges (like sound, heat, and electrical output), power buttons, meters to raise and lower (like thrust or anti-gravity), and even more. Heck, even the gyro in the GamePad is used to adjust the pitch of your craft, tilting it up and down. I don’t want to go through the entire list, as part of the fun is filling out that navigation control panel…er…I mean touch screen.

I can honestly say that each new control option added along the way was used, catering not only to immediate puzzles, but even ones later on in the game. While exploring this (surprisingly hostile) world, you will need to utilize all that your Small Craft can offer. Some puzzles had me stumped for some time while I progressed in the traditional manner of trial and error. However, the game never felt either too difficult, nor too easy. The difficulty level hits the sweet spot; the developers have made a game that encourages the player to want to continue on, but they don’t hold the player’s hand either. Of course, there is always the “Tourist” difficulty to switch to, if “Technical” proves to be too much to handle.

ASA is a fun sci-fi exploration/puzzle game with excellent GamePad usage
What is this blob thing?! Just something else to add to the sci-fi nature and mystery of the game

There was only one glitch that I encountered about 2/3 through the game. I was attempting to push a platform down, then scoot over to the side before it raised back up (at this point, I was using a newly added control option to counteract jamming). A couple of times I tried to move out of the way, only to get stuck between the platform and a corner of the floor above. I thought I could use my power to push the platform down, then quickly move over to the side, but I could no longer push the platform at all. This happened a couple of times, and each time I had to restart from the beginning of the level.

Outside of this very specific glitch (which, ultimately, didn’t hinder my experience with the title much), I have nothing but good things to say about how the GamePad is incorporated and the overall design of the game. In short, Nintendo needs to promote this game more as a key release in 2015, and as a sort of “mascot” to show gamers the GamePad is truly unique.

 

The screenshot doesn't give it justice, but that tunnel is turning at multiple speeds into darkness
The screenshot doesn’t give it justice, but that tunnel is turning at multiple speeds into darkness

Entertainment Factor – 9.75/10
I’m a sucker for a good sci-fi film or game. To my surprise, ASA not only has a very neat little story, which is unfolded extremely well, but the game truly captures the spirit of sci-fi. You’re in space, exploring a planet, all while trying to master your computer-driven craft to survive. The sense of both wonder and dread really struck a chord with me; the excellent cutscenes, variety in locales, and the space setting all really worked for me. I don’t want to give away too much, but even the Miiverse usage that is mentioned at the start of the game was rather neat.

And speaking of what worked for me, though the game has no online functionality outside of Miiverse (which is completely fine), the local multiplayer is a blast. You and two other friends can all work together to manage different functions on the Small Craft, giving the illusion that you are all individual people within the tiny craft on the screen. One player navigates the craft, one controls the scanner, and the third is the “engineer” operating the GamePad. The multiplayer functions very well, and truly pushes the players to work as one cohesive unit.

ASA exudes "sci-fi" and has some great level designs
ASA exudes “sci-fi” and has some great level designs

Finally, I want to point out something that is told in the very name of the game: Affordable Space Adventures. The whole foundation of the game is that people can take trips to space and have their own adventures, all for a very affordable price. The game reflects this throughout, in visuals, gameplay, and story. It’s very enjoyable, and it adds even more to the character of the title. When you first start on your adventure, you only have access to a gas engine; it sputters and sounds like it is about to cease up, while smoking all the way. Your craft is also hard to control. The cutscene promos are very cheesy in the sense of trying to sell these affordable vacations to gullible consumers. The very foundation of the story in the game lends to this “affordable” mind set. It’s absolutely fantastic.

The only aspect of the title that might be a downside to some is the replay value: once you’ve beaten the game (which took me roughly 8 hours), there is little incentive to go back through again. Well, unless you’re like me and simply enjoy the atmosphere and gameplay mechanics so much that it would lead to multiple play-throughs.

ASA Logo In Game


The bottom line is that Affordable Space Adventures is completely worth your time and money. This game does so many things right: utilizes the GamePad and gives it value, uses music and audio cues to accent and enhance the overall game experience, has marvelously creative visuals, and is simply a fun game. There’s very little to dislike about the game. I highly recommend Affordable Space Adventures. You can purchase the title for $19.99 on the Wii U eShop right now.

Overall – 9.8/10

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