Astroneer has been around in a finalized form since 2019 and in an early access form on PC and Xbox since 2016, giving players procedurally generated foreign planets to settle, harvest resources from, and build their base of operations for ever-extending exploration. However, one of the biggest asks for the game was when it might get a Nintendo Switch release. In 2022, hopeful Switch players have gotten their wish. The game has arrived in a more portable form on the console. While it feels a little odd moving over to a solely gamepad-driven format like the Switch, the port performs well and provides a relaxing sci-fi sandbox to explore, research, and settle.
Journey forth, brave cosmonauts
Astroneer is a game in which you take on the role of a little astronaut with the barest essentials on an alien world. You can play an Adventure Mode or Sandbox in either multiplayer co-op or solo out of the gate. Adventure Mode is good for newbies as it gives you directions, missions, and guidance to learn the game as you build your base and explore the planet. Sandbox is for those who are perhaps more experienced or just want to explore everything the game has to offer without any direction or missions whatsoever. Either way, your job is to survive, harvest resources, and build up your base so you can explore, harvest, and build in more elaborate ways.
Even with Adventure Mode, Astroneer might be a little tricky to get into at first. It has a hub of tutorials and information for you to access anytime with relative ease in the game, but sometimes the directions it provides are very minimalist. If you’re like me, you’ll be probably spending a lot of time fumbling with your backpack, terraforming tool, or grab options. That extends to trying to figure out what you need to create something, where it comes from, and how to do it as well. I feel it could do a better job of explaining things without overdoing it, especially in the first couple hours of the game.
It doesn’t entirely help that this game was definitely made for a mouse and keyboard format. The translation of that is that one button brings up a mouse-like cursor to select things. Meanwhile, another button grabs things you target or puts them down. These work well enough, but when you have an object in hand, be prepared to wrestle with the camera a bit. It focuses on the object rather than where you’re trying to turn or look with it and can be cumbersome.
That said, get past these early gripes and Astroneer becomes a very, very pleasant game on the Switch. The colorful minimalist designed worlds translate incredibly well to the Nintendo Switch and once you’ve got the hang of the controls and their quirks on a gamepad, traversing and building on it becomes quiet the unintentional time sink. I spent hours checking out missions, consulting my little Astroneer field manual, and figuring out what I needed to do next to make my base a little more cool and my pioneering life a little more easy. I was always interested in what kind of research and building came next and could barely tell when an entire afternoon passed me by.
A big part of Astroneer is using your terrain gun to both harvest resources and terraform the land. You can dig into the ground, fill it up with soil you mined, or flatten out the terrain. It’s just three simple options, but they work rather well, are very useful, and make for a lot of fun. There was a part where I fell down a deep hole away from my oxygen tethers - a mildly upsetting situation because if you die you respawn at your base and have to go collect the items that were left on your backpack. Desperate to not do that, I used the terraform gun to grind a hole upward through the rock walls and back to the surface. Where I had some complaints about the cursor and grab functions early on, I like the terraform gun altogether better because it operates more like a third-person shooter by design, which feels more intuitive.
You eventually also get vehicles and I liked using a gamepad to drive these around in comparison to the mouse and keyboard of a PC. The rover, hoverboard, and shuttle handle well here and the game played swimmingly throughout while I had it in docked mode.
But what about Astroneering in Handheld Mode?
I’m happy to say that for the most part, Astroneer handled just as fine when I took the Switch off the dock and played in handheld mode. The colors are still bright and the game handled quite smoothly as I was wandering the foreign world on my expeditions and research.
The only thing I’d say that takes a hit on Switch, especially in handheld, is when your base starts to get big and busy. As I expanded my base with larger platforms and machinery and the place got more complicated, I noticed framerates start to dip usually when I was back in my settlement. Given this was reportedly somewhat of an issue before and on better hardware than the Switch, I expect it may become even more choppy as a settlement expands, at least in handheld.
Outside of that, though, exploring in Astroneer is a happy breeze and you won’t find too much in the way of issues whether you’re playing docked or handheld with this one.
A vast sci-fi sandbox packed up to-go
Astroneer on Switch in 2022 is a longstanding request finally delivered. Outside of occasional jank when things get busy in handheld and some odd early learning curves from a slim tutorial and mouse controls adapted to a gamepad, this game is a rich and pleasing adventure into the unknown. Its procedurally generated planets translated well to the Switch and whether you’re in Sandbox or Adventure Mode, there’s so much to do between one planet and reaching beyond to further astral bodies. Keep your oxygen tanks handy because the Nintendo Switch version of Astroneer will let you pioneer planets far beyond the tethers of your couch and TV.
These impressions are based on a digital Nintendo Switch copy of the game provided by the publisher. Astroneer is available now on Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC via Steam.