It’s hard to determine what makes a great mobile game, however, recent classics have several things in common. Like Pokemon Go, they make the most of the small but portable hardware they use. Like Angry Birds, they use a simple formula but gradually build on it until, like Candy Crush, they’re hard enough to keep you coming back to try to beat the next level.
Space Pioneer has none of these traits. It’s a top-down shooter with RPG and idle elements, newly released from developer Vivid Games. Unfortunately, it has nothing going for it to distinguish it from the slew of other mobile games released daily.
The game takes place over the course of a large number of missions, set on a series of indistinct arena maps. Players must complete one or more missions, typically king-of-the-hill style position defence tasks, while shooting as many enemies as possible. Each mission is virtually indistinguishable from the other, and they very quickly become monotonous.
Space Pioneer also suffers from being supremely easy. All enemies have either melee attacks or fire forward, and the player’s weapon locks on to the nearest enemy, so simply circling around enemies or groups and holding the fire button quickly wipes out any opposition without sustaining any damage. Even in the most hectic of situation, there’s no tension to be gained from facing the odds – especially since all you need to be revived if you do die is watch a short advert.
The control scheme used is an imitation-joypad, with buttons to shoot and a joystick to the left. Imitation-joypads were a popular control scheme when mobile gaming was new, but the medium has moved on to more efficient schemes. In this case, the simple control scheme prevents the combat from advancing in depth or complexity, which facilitates how easy the game is by never shaking up the gameplay over the course of countless identical missions.
Outside of the levels, you can oversee a space station that provides currency for upgrades, and can implement certain upgrades too. The station uses idle RPG mechanics to upgrade and produce currency, however there’s not much to do and the easy difficulty of levels makes any upgrades redundant anyway.
Similarly, there are many micro transactions available to provide currency and upgrades, but they too are useless as you never need to upgrade your equipment. There are even £99 bundles to purchase, which seems inconceivable given that even popular mobile games rarely have micro transactions for that sum. It seems that Vivid Games were being a little hopeful in the appeal of their game.
If the game has a redeeming feature, it is the visuals. The isometric art style has an elegance in its simplicity, and the style is replicated in all facets of the levels and the interfaces. It’s clear that there are a few different types of world – there’s an ice planet, a jungle planet, a desert planet – and each comes with its own visual style, different flora, and enemies that are unique to the location. For example the jungle planet has many trees that block movement (at least, compared to the other maps) and the enemies are all bugs or plants. The distinct planet designs go some way to breaking up the monotony, although there’s only so much they can redeem.
At its core Space Pioneers is a fine game – it functions smoothly, there’s a clear artistic vision involved, and it has a host of interestingly-designed enemies and assets. The first few levels are fun, with hectic combat and plentiful rewards for beating levels. However, the appeal quickly falls through, and it’s just too simplistic to ever become interesting or challenging. The game stands as an example of how just a few bad mechanics can have repercussions on every mechanic in a game.
It’s clear that Vivid Games worked hard at creating the game, and it has a lot of potential peering out from the cracks. However, Space Pioneer is not reliably entertaining enough to compare to the plethora of other, more interesting mobile games.