In the future not everyone gets to fly a sleek fighter craft or captain a space station. Some people will get lumbered with the boring, humdrum jobs that still have to be filled, and that’s the backdrop to Blue-Collar Astronaut. This space-based adventure takes the form of a 2D, physics-based puzzle game that sees you delivering pizzas and transporting cargo, all the while trying to pay off a lifetime of financial debt.
Actually, describing it as a puzzle game is slightly misleading. Each of the 41 bite-sized levels is essentially getting from A to B (and sometimes C or back to A). The challenge here are the ‘realistic’ controls as you can’t steer your ship, only fire your thrusters to accelerate in the direction you’re facing. And as you’re in space your momentum will continue indefinitely, with the only way to slow down to point yourself in the other direction and fire your thrusters again until you slow down. Although there are plenty of small planets and asteroids that apply gravitational force as well.
Visually, Blue-Collar Astronaut is similarly stripped down. Graphics are basic, flash-style affairs and nothing to shout about. They just about do the job, although it can sometimes be difficult to see – especially when the camera zooms out. Another problem with zooming out is the game tries to help you by superimposing a large image of your ship over your location so you can see which direction you’re facing – but this just serves to obstruct your view further. Meanwhile the audio is fairly unobtrusive, although the repetitive music can start to grate after a while.
As you can probably tell, Blue-Collar Astronaut doesn’t take itself too seriously. Aside from the premise, the style and tone reminded me of the Futurama TV series – although it’s nowhere near as funny. The opening intro is amusing but after that the humour is a bit muted, and isn’t helped by the fact there’s no real introduction to each level – you’re just thrown in. One interesting aspect though is the fact that instead of trying to build up money, you’re trying to chip away at all your student loan and credit card debt. Successfully completing a level doesn’t actually pay much, especially when fuel and repair costs are deducted. Sometimes you’ll often find yourself losing money after a mission – especially when random costs such as broadband or insurance bills pop up. The upgrade menu has a similar sense of humour with some useless purchases like scratchcards and lottery tickets, as well as impossible to afford options like expensive apartments.
But of course the big question is whether the game is fun to play, and that’s where I have unfortunate news. While there is a basic level of enjoyment, the controls often feel fiddly and there isn’t too much satisfaction to be had. Many levels have time limits or random elements which doesn’t suit a control scheme that relies on slow, careful flying. There’s also inconsistency with the durability of your ship as sometimes a slight impact will kill you instantly but at other times you’ll be fine, or just suffer minor damage. Another poor design implementation is the lack of speed or direction indicators, which becomes a real problem when there are no other structures on screen to give you an idea of your momentum.
The troublesome gameplay in Blue-Collar Astronaut is hampered further by the lack of levels. I breezed through all 41 in a couple of hours, with just a few frustrating places that held me up. You are encouraged to replay them and improve your score and medals, but the omission of online leaderboards makes this fairly pointless. Admittedly you do unlock five further gameplay modes (time, fuel, health, challenge, free) to mix up the levels but they don’t add much more. Plus some levels aren’t suited to particular modes, while others seemed downright broken. Given these complaints I shouldn’t be surprised by the lack of any multiplayer modes or level creator options, but even so their omission further disappointed me.
While there is some basic enjoyment to be had, and the premise of performing menial space jobs to pay off student loans is amusing, Blue-Collar Astronaut is ultimately a let-down. I get enough of repetitive, unrewarding tasks in my day job – I play games to have fun and there simply isn’t enough of that here.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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