The WiiU is a great system. I’m not trying to convince myself of some sort of turn around for sales or its long term viability, but merely stating a fact. It has nearly a dozen must play exclusive games. Most of them are from Nintendo themselves, but it still has a fat stack of great games. More than you can say about the PS4 or Xbox1 at this point. The tablet controller is simultaneously an albatross around Nintendo’s neck and the systems biggest selling point. Most games go the easy route with it, merely using it for off screen play or to display an inventory. Off screen play is amazing. It is the reason that Assassin’s Creed 3 is the only game in that series that I’ve completed. It makes it so easy to play without monopolizing the TV. Still, it is not an exciting use for that second screen. No one other than Nintendo has really leveraged that screen into something vital, and even they haven’t done that great a job of it. The recently released Affordable Space Adventures is the best use of tablet yet, a game that could only be possible on the WiiU.
Affordable Space Adventures is not an especially complex game. You play as a tiny space ship, deployed from a shady space tourism company to explore a supposedly safe alien world. Of course, the drop ship crashes and the player must fly their ship to one of the SOS pods set up around the world. It plays out in linear, puzzled based levels. As you go along, more of the ship’s damaged systems come back online and they must be used effectively to avoid being noticed by the hazards on the planet, usually leftover drones from a crashed alien ship.
The ship actually has a nice array of abilities. It has a powerful, but loud gas engine, a quieter electric one, a scanner and searchlight, and several types of landing gear. It is great to deploy them in interesting ways to get through the levels. Sometimes you have to get up to speed, kill the motor and drop the sled shaped landing gear to slide by unnoticed. What is great is that the first half of the game slowly builds up the players powers and then the second half slowly takes them away again. The ship doesn’t make it through the obstacles unscathed, and it systems start to malfunction. It makes for a really great puzzle platformer, all couched in the increasingly disturbing ads for UExplore, the shady company that sent you out there. The ending might be one of the darkest things I’ve encountered is such a charming game.
Affordable Space Adventures gets the most out of the WiiU’s tablet controller. While the sticks control the light and ship, but managing the various motors and the like is all done on the touch screen. Playing the game single player means you have to control all three parts simultaneously, making it a delicate juggling act of balancing everything. It uses the entirety of the tablet to keep the ship moving and out of trouble. Flicking switches on the small screen while darting the ship in and out of trouble is just so satisfying. It does a terrific job of making the player really feel like they are piloting a small spacecraft. The multiplayer is equally great. Up to three players can play at the same time, each controlling one part of the ship. One will be the pilot, moving the ship around, another the engineer, managing the engines and the last the science officer, manning the scanner and searchlight. It is frustrating, of course, but it is also a wonderful experience in forced teamwork.
No game has made the tablet more central to the experience than Affordable Space Adventures. It is all about doing things on the bottom screen while watching the top screen. It is also just a really well made game. It shows how great an experience is possible with the WiiU tablet, even if few are willing to try to find ways to make it work. Really, off screen play is enough to justify the tablet controller in my mind, but games like this are as beautiful as they are rare.