If you’ve read any of my Mobile to Switch port reviews before (such as Into the Dead 2) you’ll know how addicted I tend to get with the simplest of games. Rather than try to create an immersive and stretched-out narrative, games that were originally created for use on a mobile device tend to be short and snappy in their approach, with various mechanics used to prolong your gameplay and pull you into their addictive trap. The latest game which had me hooked for around 20-25 hours, casually playing whilst watching TV or waiting for my food to cook, was Space Pioneer from Vivid games, Game Odyssey and Qubic Games.
Just like Into the Dead 2, Space Pioneer originated as a Free-to-Play game on both iOS and Android devices, yet the transition over to the Switch has been met with a very respectable £8.99 price tag. Other similarities are that the game has had all microtransactions stripped out, the rewards and difficulty have been balanced, everything has been customised from the ground up for the Switch, and there is even a new mode that isn’t on the mobile version.
As usual, I’ve been playing both the Mobile (on my iPad) and Switch versions so that I can compare the two and see if it’s worth the premium price tag. Also, I kind of got carried away with the game and managed to complete all eleven campaign chapters, unlocking something I wasn’t expecting…
Space Pioneer isn’t a narrative masterpiece, it gets you into the action fast with a short story to catch you up on who you are and what your job is. You are one of the titular Space Pioneer, setting out to rid the galaxy of all alien threats as you jump from planet to planet in search of new gear, artefacts, lost allies, and crashed ships, all whilst exterminating anything that moves. With the help of in-game Loot Crates, tonnes of trophies, per-level missions, and the in-game shop, you must make yourself as powerful as you can, choosing the right weapons and gear for the job in order to emerge the victor.
Not only will you face off against a bunch of smaller alien minions who want nothing more than to see you suffer and die, but you’ll also face mighty bosses quite often, huge creatures who can take you out with one or two hits if you’re not suitably prepared. There’s also the main boss who you meet a few times throughout the game, an evil git who will cause you nothing but stress and anger in the final fight within chapter 11. However, the game doesn’t end upon his demise as Space Pioneer is endless, a brilliant fact which means your £8.99 could lest you tens or hundreds of hours depending on your determination in unlocking all the trophies.
I wouldn’t really say that the game is a Roguelike or lite as you have to complete the level in order to get the upgrades and money so you can try again with better gear, but it’s about as addictive as most Rogulelite games I’ve played recently, maybe more. Let’s take a look at the actual gameplay…
Space Pioneer is a simplistic twin-stick shooter. The Left Stick moves your pioneer, the Right Stick adjusts which direction you’re aiming in, ZR fires your weapon, and either the face or shoulder buttons perform your three chosen gear actions. There are no touch-screen interactions and the co-op (which I’ll come to later) can be played with a single Joycon but I highly advise against it as you NEED both sticks to aim properly.
The main campaign consists of 62 levels (planets) which are spread across eleven chapters, each one offering three challenges for you to complete in order to earn Stars. Yes, as this game was originally a mobile game, and those types of games love holding back progression based on stars, this port is no different. However, I never felt I was being restricted or blocked from progressing due to how many stars I had earnt as you’ll comfortably earn the amount you need to unlock all chapters. The challenges vary from completing a level without getting hit to finishing the level with a certain gun, and from using gear to deal the final blow to completing all missions on that planet under a set time. Some are challenging, others not so much.
On top of the per-planet challenges, there are also five rotating challenges that will reward you with upgrade cards, money, or a Loot Crate if you meet the criteria given to you. If you don’t fancy the challenge, you can pay in-game cash to swap it for another one. Also, there are 26 Bronze and 27 Silver and Gold ‘trophies’ to unlock. These also reward you with the same as the above as well as new weapons, gear and tonnes more cash depending on the grade of the trophy. I’ve unlocked 38 out of 80 so far – the criteria in unlocking these is much greater than the rotational challenges!
Gear and weapons
The main thing about Space Pioneer, which makes it very addictive and hard to put down, is the multitude of weapons and loadout combinations that you can have – you’ll have to constantly ensure you use the right gear and swap things around in order to grab the per-planet mission stars. First of all, there are multiple pioneer body-types (classes) to choose from, three suits that unlock as you progress throughout the game. From the outside, they look like your usual Light, Medium and Heavy class, but there’s so much more to them than that. Each class comes with its own passive skills such as reducing cooldown timers or making you invincible after certain actions.
Each class also has its own helper robot which matches your new look, from the light robot which reduces the capture timers to the heavy robot which increases your attack power.
Your active abilities, your gear, is shared across all classes and you can assign three items at a time, mapping them to whatever face buttons you wish. From the simple Frag Grenade to the incredibly powerful Space Sword, each one is sure to help you on your mission. Then we come to the weapons, your ZR operated gun. Eleven weapons all with various stats and advantages which you need to strategically think about before going into battle – why take your flamethrower into a fight with robotic enemies when you have a tesla gun?
The best weapons are unlocked based on completing a number of trophies and progressing in the chapters.
The one thing your passive abilities, active gear and weapons all have in common is the procedure to unlock the upgrades, a process similar to Into the Dead 2 on mobile (but not the Switch version of that game) – Loot Crate rewards. Each time you finish a level, complete challenges, get a trophy, or do anything noteworthy, you’re given a bunch of ‘cards’ with a weapon, ability or gear on it. Each item requires not only a monetary amount in order to upgrade its power or effectiveness, but it also requires a certain number of respective cards. For example, I really want to level up my Machine gun but it requires 8000 coins (I have 21k) and 20 cards (I only have 17) – so I can’t upgrade it until I randomly get those cards.
This didn’t annoy me at first as I loved the initial weapon you get, I’d levelled it up a lot and was able to slaughter almost everything with no issues. Then I got to the later stages and I needed to start using the other weapons and gear, but I couldn’t upgrade them due to a lack of cards. This is clearly a mechanic which is used on mobiles to get people to pay real money to buy Loot Crates in hopes they get something they like, similar to watching adverts for an even smaller chance at getting something good for ‘free’. It’s a shame this mechanic is still in the game (albeit you’re given more cards much more often and there are no actual paid microtransactions), but I imagine redesigning the game to work without them would have been a massive job – why is why I praised the Into the Dead 2 devs for the conversion they did.
Multiplayer and co-op
If you’ve played Space Pioneer before on mobile, you’ll know that there’s a multiplayer option. This is a four-player deathmatch game in which you simply see who can get the most kills in a set time, rewarding you with cards and coins based on your performance. This is used as a way to boost your income without paying money or watching adverts, it’s also quite fun. However, the Nintendo Switch version doesn’t actually have the multiplayer included, instead, it offers up to four-player local co-op. The co-op can be activated in every world (providing you’ve completed the first three) and is quite fun to play if you’ve got a few mates around and want something quick and easy to put on.
Removing the multiplayer is a shame, as the mobile version seems to use bots as well as humans to ensure immediate games which are always populated, but the inclusion of the co-op helped soften the blow.
Value for money?
Whilst I’m talking about the differences between the mobile and Switch versions, let’s see if I feel the game is worth £8.99… Yes, it is. I’ve just loaded up the mobile edition and the first thing that popped up is “buy 50 health, speed and cooldown cards, plus 200 ‘gems’ for £4.99” – gems are basically premium currency you buy or earn (very slowly) in order to buy coins and Loot Crates in-game. There are a few packs for up to £9.99 which will give you a combination of coins and cards, basically costing more than the full non-microtransaction version on the Switch. The only obvious omissions are the multiplayer modes (such as horde and boss rush) and the inclusion of things such as chest crafting with the premium currency and 109 trophies rather than 80.
The other major difference is that the iOS version ONLY works with touch controls via virtual buttons, having your character auto-aim at any nearby enemies as you shoot, whereas the Switch requires you to aim and shoot manually – allowing you to be more precise. I’d go as far as saying, grab the free mobile version, see if you like the gameplay then buy it on the Switch – everything is improved over the original version of the game.
Once you’ve completed the eleven main chapters, is that the end of the game? Nope! Chapter 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, etc are all random clusters of planets with new missions on each planet and more difficult enemies. Basically, once you’ve finished the main ‘story’, you can literally play the game forever as you try to complete all the criteria for the trophies, unlock all the weapons and upgrade them, and perform genocide on every living creature who isn’t human.
Is this game for you?
If you’re like me and find yourself getting easily absorbed in mobile games yet you hate the constant ads or requests for more money to play their game, then this game is for you. There’s not much variety in the planets and enemy types, but if you aim to try and get all the stars then each level forces you to try new things based on the criteria in obtaining them. Some people may say the gameplay gets repetitive, as you’re always doing the same thing – landing, shooting, completing a few goals, then moving to the next planet – but that’s the point, it’s a game best played in short bursts when you have a few minutes free. The progression-based unlocks and random cards help enforce diversity as you’re pushed to try out new weapons and gear, again, helping it not feel too monotonous or samey.
It’s a mindless twin-stick shooter which doesn’t require much concentration or thought whilst playing – perfect if you want something to play whilst listening to music or watching a boring TV show.
Visually, the game looks almost identical to the mobile version, only the Switch did seem a little bit higher quality than my iPad Air 2. However, despite the cartoony and fun visuals, the game buckled at certain points when I was playing it. When there’s a lot of coins on the screen, a bunch of enemies, or a load of explosions, the framerate dropped quite drastically. Thankfully it only lasts a few seconds, but it is very obvious when it happens. I’d say that for about 95% of my time playing Space Pioneer, the game ran fine.
Space Pioneer is another very addictive Nintendo Switch title that originated as a Free-to-Play Mobile game. The game has been fully adapted to the hybrid console, removing all the microtransactions, rebalancing the rewards and combat difficulty, adjusting the UI into something much more pleasing, and implementing dual-stick controls with the physical Joycons. Although there isn’t that much variety or diversity with the enemies and planets, the gameplay shakes things up with multiple quests, missions, and trophies, as well as requiring strategic thinking around what weapons, gear, and armour to use. Whether playing on your own or with friends or family locally, if you’re looking for a game you can play in short-bursts then Space Pioneer will certainly keep you entertained.
Not only are Qubic Games being generous and giving away ten of their Switch games to every single Switch owner this Christmas (Click HERE for more info), they are also running a competition for a $50 or €50 e-Shop gift card! There are two competitions, draw, create a sculpture or 3D design a planet in the style of Robonauts or your own Space Pioneer companion robot. All the information can be found here: https://qubicgames.com/galaxy-community-contest/. I can’t see an end date but I imagine it’ll be within a few weeks after this review is posted.
- - Very addictive
- - All microtransactions have been scrapped and the game has been balanced accordingly
- - Can be played with one to four players locally
- - The game pushes you to use all the different weapons and gear, making the game more diverse
- - It'll easily take you around 20-25 hours to complete the campaign chapters
- - Although the microtransactions are gone, upgrades are still based around random Loot Crate-style cards which means you may not get the upgrades you want
- - The multiplayer was removed. I enjoy the local co-op but it would have been nice if some of the multiplayer modes were present like the horde mode for local play
- - The game performs poorly when there's a lot of action or coins on the screen (in portable mode at least)