Affordable Space Adventures preview: pimp my Wii U

Wii U has been woefully short on games that take full advantage of its GamePad controller. One of the few that does so well is the downloadable party game, Spin the Bottle: Bumpie’s Party from KnapNok Games. With one Wii U title already under their belts, KnapNok is now teaming up with Knytt creator Nifflas to go into orbit with Affordable Space Adventures. Shacknews was given the opportunity to try the flight-based adventure-puzzler at this year's Game Developers Conference and see how much the game utilizes the Wii U GamePad.

Affordable Space Adventures begins with the player taking control of what I can best describe as a space jalopy. It’s a broken-down spaceship that has endured some heavy damage and is stranded on a dangerous planet. The idea is to navigate the handicapped ship to safety and avoid any hazards along the way. As the game progresses, the ship will gradually regain its functions and slowly regenerate its abilities.

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What sets Affordable Space Adventures apart from similar games is that the player is manually controlling every element of the spaceship's functions through the GamePad's touch screen. I started off by touching the ignition to activate the ship before flying around with the dual control sticks. More elements of the combustion engine opened up, like thrust engines and stabilizers. Later in the demo, I was able to switch over to an electric engine, which came with its own distinct abilities.

"Nifflas is the core designer of the spaceship and all the engines," KnapNok co-founder Dajana Dimovska told Shacknews. "The idea is very inspired by spaceship games in general, but also movies like Star Trek. There was also thinking about properties or engines where we could have different environments, so we came up with this electrical and fuel engine. They’re very different, like one produces heat and one is noisier than the other. We tried to come up with systems that are very different from each other to come up with different kind of gameplay."

Nifflas' influence can be seen throughout Affordable Space Adventures, as each level is styled with the developer’s atmospheric art style. Stages are designed to be straightforward linear affairs, with players searching for the exit. There are several puzzles that are tied to the ship's abilities, like sequences that require aiming with the R button and firing off a beacon to press switches and open doors.

Other puzzles are significantly more dangerous, as hostile robots will begin to litter areas. Scanning the robots will help indicate how far their lasers can reach, so that players could potentially fly around the danger. In some cases, you'll have to fly through a robot’s line of sight, but detection is avoidable, as long as certain conditions are met. For example, one robot could detect heat, so I had to lower the ship's thrusters and set the stabilizers to their lowest setting to make sure that they didn't trigger the robot's sensors. These stealth elements are a nice mix to an otherwise straightforward puzzle experience.

There are some UI issues that I encountered during my time with Affordable Space Adventures, as the game isn't always clear about the idea of adjusting the ship's functions. Objectives aren't always so easy to pick up on, as the art design had me convinced at a few points that I was flying into a dead end when it was actually the exit hidden behind a large piece of foreground.

Affordable Space Adventures is early in development, but the potential for innovation is there. This game demonstrates potential new ways to utilize the controller's touch pad for an engaging gameplay purpose. I only scratched the surface of what the spaceship is capable of, as I noticed several other abilities that were just waiting to be unlocked to turn my space jalopy into a sweet galactic ride.

Affordable Space Adventures is aiming to release on Wii U later this year as a downloadable title.