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Affordable Space Adventures: hands-on with co-op at GDC 2015

Affordable Space Adventures has been revving its engines for a good while. It was first seen at last year's Game Developers Conference before making appearances at several events, including last year's IndieCade. This week, the collaboration between KnapNok Games and Nifflas returned to GDC. Not only did it blast off with a new release date in tow, but it also received a major addition: three-player local co-op.

For those unfamiliar with Affordable Space Adventures, players take control of a ship that has been completely stripped down after a rough crash onto an unfamiliar and hostile planet. The idea is to gradually recover all of the parts and become a mighty space vessel, once more, but players must manually navigate the ship's many components using the Wii U GamePad. The premise remains as challenging as before. Getting past hostile heat-seeking turrets requires turning down thrusters, boost, and basically anything that generates heat, but many instances have players creatively balancing the ship's abilities to pull off daring jumps or to get across hazardous areas unharmed.

The idea remains exactly the same in co-op. A second or third player can drop in or out at any time, essentially giving the ship a second crew member. In a two-player game, a friend will pilot the ship with a Wii U Pro Controller, while the GamePad user continues to control the ship's functions. This adds a completely new dimension to the game, because communication becomes essential. Pilots must indicate when certain controls needs to be tuned up or down and given that timing is an important part of making it out alive, it's a much taller task than expected. A third player can make the proceedings even hairier by picking up a Pro Controller or Wii Remote and taking control of the ship's scanners and flares.

To give an example of how the action can quickly devolve into too many cooks, the demo placed us in a closed-off area that required four switches to be activated before moving forward. One of the switches was located along the bottom-right corner, with a rail sloping into a ski-like jump over a monster pit onto another rail. Above the jump was a heat-seeking turret, with the switch just above it.

With that set up, it was time for the team to huddle up. The pilot had to take a position at the top of the slope and gather enough speed for the jump. The GamePad user had to shut off the thrusters and boost at just the right time, in order to avoid detection. He also had to set the landing gear to allow the ship to slide down the slope and make the jump. Meanwhile, the third player needed to aim the flare at just the right spot to hit the switch.

Indeed, the toughest part of this was communication. A lot of trial and error was involved. Our ship was riddled with bullets and eaten alive at several points. But eventually, all the right pieces came together and the switch was flipped, with everyone still in one piece. There's a sense of satisfaction that comes in solving puzzles alone, but Affordable Space Adventures has made cooperative success feel far more rewarding. Friends can be at each other's throats in moments, but they can just as easily toast to success after finally completing some difficult stretches.

Now with three-player co-op in tow, Affordable Space Adventures is ready to release to a wide Nintendo audience. Look for the game to hit the Wii U eShop on April 9.

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