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REVIEW: “Affordable Space” delivers a gripping three person puzzle adventure

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When Nintendo first announced the Wii U with its second-screen GamePad, there was plenty of speculation at just what sort of innovations would arrive alongside the two-headed gaming system. Aside from a handful of standouts where the GamePad is a key element – like “ZombiU” and “Mario Party 10” – the GamePad has chiefly been a nice benefit to great games that probably would have been just as great without it. However, a new contender has entered the ring, giving us another amazing example of just what can be done when a game goes all-in on Nintendo’s unique Wii U gear. Get ready for the cheekily titled “Affordable Space Adventures.”

In “Affordable Space Adventures,” you’re invited to take a fabulous journey into space to explore the peaceful, beautiful planet Spectaculon. The game treats it like an advertising campaign, with shiny, rainbow-colored pictures of Spectaculon that look like they were borrowed from a Lisa Frank sticker album. This adventurous vacation is entirely affordable, thanks to the company’s cheap-yet-reliable brand of exploratory spacecraft. But after you land on Spectaculon, everything goes sideways and you see that the planet was not quite as serene as promised. The environment is unforgiving, the ship is in pieces, and the claustrophobic passageways are peppered with vicious sentry robots.

Moving the craft involves mastering an interconnected set of “Star Trek”-style control panels. Tapping the GamePad touchscreen lets you switch between gas and electric-powered engines, manage the amount of thrust and lift, and keep an eye on the ship’s temperature and sound levels. Spectaculon is split into a series of levels where your progress will require a deft understanding and manipulation of all of these spaceship sub-systems. “Affordable Space Adventures” is a puzzle game that relies on quick, efficient action.

While the game works well as a single-player experience, it truly stands out with up to three players. With multiple players, “Affordable Space Adventures” splits up the ship’s controls among the group. The player with the GamePad is still responsible for monitoring and adjusting the systems, but another player gets to actually fly the ship while the third manages the vital flashlight and flare-launching functions. With a full crew, players must coordinate and communicate with each other to solve the puzzles. This simultaneously adds to the game’s “we’re all in trouble and alone” vibe and provides great excuses for chucking couch pillows at each other when somebody fails to perform.

If “Affordable Space Adventures” sounds intimidating, note that the game encourages exploration with a generous checkpointing system that never forces you to re-do finished puzzles. You’re allowed to fly boldly forward and attempt different solutions without worrying about being punished for it.

But what is most interesting about “Affordable Space Adventures” is how it compares a breathless marketing pitch with the disappointing reality of that pitch. The story by turns funny and maudlin, as you place yourself in the shoes of untrained space explorers who just wanted to see a world of Dr. Seuss forests and purple dolphins.

This review is based on product supplied by Nintendo of America. Image courtesy Knapnok Games. “Affordable Space Adventures” is a downloadable title available for Wii U on the Nintendo eShop.