Let’s take a look at … – The Spacials

The Spacials is a space colony management sim from the Carrasco brothers over at Weird and Wry; a small indie studio developed in 2014, Barcelona. It’s their debut title, and what an entrance. The Spacials is probably best described as Roller-coaster Tycoon in space, with a dynamic and randomly generated world around you. The game has been available in Early Access through their website, but today it lands on Steam as a full release. Let’s take a look.

The Spacials is set in a not too distant future where the human race is trying to establish itself out in the Universe. It’s your task to build a team of officers, explore the Universe around you, gather resources and build the most bad-ass space tourism spot you can to bring in as many visitors as possible and keep them happy.

It’s a fun and friendly implementation of a genre that has before put me off by its very nature. It’s not bogged down in numbers, meticulous details or terrifyingly complex interfaces, it’s all action and is presented in a succinct manner. This is further enforced through the aesthetics which are very light and cartoony, it’s a very nice style and compliments the gameplay and overall casual feel of the game well. Same goes for the soundtrack throughout. Its light ambiance feels perfectly at home in the game.

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The core of The Spacials is to gain resources and use them to build and maintain the best space tourism spot you can. Resources come in many shapes and sizes and are collected by completing missions on planets in the systems that you have unlocked, bounties and contracts. Once you complete a mission on a planet you unlock its resources and supply lines. The missions come in a variety of difficulties, so if you’re finding things a bit easy you can crank up the difficulty for a greater challenge.

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Combat when on these missions is rather unique, and is where the bulk of the action comes from. All combat is squad based. When you are selecting a mission, you will chose the officers that will comprise your squad. There are 5 classes of officer in the game, Strategist, Scientist, Diplomat, Engineer and Doctor, each with their own roles. For each mission there’s a slot available for 1 officer from each class, 5 total. So you pick your quad of 5 and start the mission, teleporting you to the planet in the process.

From this point on you’re on your mission on a randomly generated planet. The goals of the missions, at least all the missions I’ve played, are simple and along the lines of ‘Find X’, ‘Destroy X’ and don’t take too long to complete. You click the ground to move, your whole squad moves as one unit, and when you find an enemy you spam click the hell out of it; there’s no auto-fire. At first this bugged me, but after playing the game for a while I came too really like the combat.

Each officer has a special skill that gets mapped to the hot-keys 1-5. Having these different types of abilities really offers some verity to combat and your squad. Each of these abilities, and your officers’ weapons and passive abilities, can be changed and upgraded, so you can kit your squad out however you like and create some crazy combos for weapons and abilities.

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Once you have your resources you can return to you base, tend to your officers’ needs and work on your space tourism base. The goal is to get as many visitors as possible, and to keep them as happy as you can. The visitor screen will give a breakdown of all visitors currently at your base, and how happy they are. You use this to expand your base to accommodate the needs of your visitors. As you attract more visitors you need to provide a wider variety of accommodation and attractions, so you will have to pay a visit to the tech tree; the upgrade system of The Spacials.

Throughout your exploits on other planets, you will earn research points. These are spent at the technology tree on unlocking new build types, and there’s lots to choose from. There’s no rules on how you create and customize your base, so it’s really just down to your imagination.

the-spacials-tech-tree

Once you have your resources, and whatever you want to build unlocked in the tech tree, then it’s time to start designing your tourism base. The building controls are easy and nice to use, although I think the UI surrounding it could do with some more polish. In fact, the UI and polish everywhere I think are a few patches short of being where they could be.

There is a nice tutorial that covers lots of the introduction to the game, but I think in general the UI and self-intuitiveness of it could be improved. Example. It took me ages to work out how to remove someone from an Embassy pots. (You can put your officers into the Embassy of a system to gain more resources from it). To remove someone from an embassy position, you have to assign an empty slot the position. I realise you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work that out, but a remove button would have just been that much easier.

And that’s the focus of my criticism. There’s a whole bunch of tweaks that could be made to make it that much easier and just add a touch more polish. Things like tool-tips when you’re hovering over buttons, some of the UI overlaps in places when you do certain things, you can’t move items once placed, and the inventory system is somewhat cumbersome when it comes to kitting out your officers. Only small things, but given the genre, and especially the fact that this is a casual implementation of the genre, I think self-intuitiveness and UI design should be as perfect as can be and for me there’s still a bit of room for improvement.

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What I love most about The Spacials is that it makes the genre accessible. I’ve seen plenty of space sims before this, but they’ve always seemed like too much hard work! The Spacials captures the essence of a good sim without letting it get in the way of itself. Yes, I think there’s some issues with the UI and general self-intuitiveness of the interface in places and some of the actions, but these are minor. I think The Spacials is a great casual entry into the genre, and an awesome debut title from Weird and Wry.

Icing on the cake, it’s only £8.99; a nice cheap price for the amount of content and hours you will get out of the game. There’s also a launch sale, where the game will be 25% off until April 7th. Will you be playing The Spacials? We hope so. If you do, let us know what you thought of it in the comments.

Tl;dr – The Spacials is a fun and friendly implementation of a genre that has before put me off by its very nature. It’s not bogged down in numbers, meticulous details or terrifyingly complex interfaces, it’s all action and is presented in a succinct manner.  I very much enjoyed it. For those accustomed to their space sims this will be a nice casual experience, and for those like me that are new to it it’s a great entry point.

Rating – 7/10
Purchase – Steam £8.99 (excluding 25% launch sale until April 7th)

Let’s take a look at … – Depri-Horst

Depri-Horst is a weirdly wonderful mobile title from Steffen Wittig. It doesn’t take itself too seriously which I something I really liked and it made me laugh more than once. The story is bit odd, the sounds are bit odd, the levels are bit odd and it works wonderfully.

The game sees you playing as a depressed mailman who has to work his way through levels delivering mail and killing enemies by throwing your mail at them. There’s 2 modes, story and survival. Survival is simply an endless level mode where you go as far as possible so if we cover story we’ll cover this too.

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Starting at the beginning, the main menu is great. Each page moves seamlessly into the other with a nice parallax effect. The controls are simple: Tap behind Horst to jump, top Horst himself to stop him and tap in-front of him to shoot. I must say, the instructions don’t tell you that you will shoot wherever you aim. It may seem simple but I overlooked this and it made the first level MUCH harder until I realised!

Each level starts with a nice, hand drawn, comic strip which lets you know what the level is about, then straight into the action. The main mechanics are very simple; jump and shoot, but they’re the main point of criticism for the game. I find the controls, and therefore general gameplay, very slow. To jump you have to press the screen, charge the jump and then release to actually jump. I’m not a fan of this as I think it slows gameplay down. There’s also quite a delay in the time it takes you to shoot which can be very frustrating as enemies sometimes come at you quicker that you.

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This is improved as you move through the game and start to unlock upgrades. Once you get a certain amount of points in a level you will have the chance to upgrade Horst. You upgrade his different abilities and after unlocking a few gameplay really speeds up and becomes much more fun. I like the fact that you have to work to unlock upgrades to improve Horst, but I would make him faster to begin with.

upgrades

To move through levels you have no navigate the level and shoot the enemies coming at you. Nothing ground-breaking, especially which what in my mind are weak controls, but the game really redeems itself with its humour. To start with the initial concept is a bit wacky and funny. Throwing your mail at cats and birds is pretty fun. Then there’s things like all sound effects seem to have been made by the creator with his voice. This is awesome and some in particular are really amusing. The death animation is a favourite and makes me laugh every time I die removing some of the frustration.

Humour is also achieved through gameplay. If Horst touches newspaper he reads then, gets depressed and will cry and crawl along the floor. There is a level where you’re been chased by a giant cat that’s on fire. All of the comic strips before the levels are funny. It’s all work really well together.

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And that’s where Horsts strengths lie. The controls I feel are a bit week, and gameplay is very simple but it’s really funny and charming and I found myself laughing while I through mail at cats and birds.

Out of ten, I’d say Depri-Horst is a solid 7. I’m not a fan of the controls and somewhat slow start, but it’s made up by its humour and charm.