This week I was given the opportunity to do something that I had only dreamed of: write a review of a game I got a free advanced copy for! Well okay, I imagine you’ve read the article title so…to be more accurate I am writing about my first impressions for the Kickstarter Demo of a game. But I DID get the redemption code for free, and that still makes this experience closer to my dreams coming true than I usually get and probably closer than I’ll ever get again. So a massive thank you to the folks at Recombobulator Games for bringing this faintest glimmer of meaning and hope into my existence. And now that I’m finished with my regularly scheduled preamble filled with jokes that almost certainly are not as humorous as I think they are, let’s get on with the rest of the article that will also be filled with the same quality of jokes.
Space Boat is a science-fiction adventure game for PC where you search for clues on your undercover journey as a cat in a mech suit disguise to track down an intergalactic jewel thief. The demo I received took about an hour to finish, as I wanted to make sure I took in the colourful sights and sounds and talked to the similarly vivid cast of characters. The setting and decoration for this world is competently textured; Space Boat gleams with graphics that, while perhaps unpolished compared to the world of AAA videogames and too bombastic for the sensibilities of some, impressed me—particularly after realizing this game is largely being made by a single individual. While I did tend to dally around in order to take in every inch of this game, my playtime would have been slightly shorter had I not run into a bug that forced me to close the game and start over. As you’ll see in a moment, both of these points about the length of my experience bring me to talking a bit about a few of Space Boat‘s characters.
The bug I ran into caused me to unable to interact with anything (including the quit game button in the pause menu) or receive prompts to interact with anything other than the delightful character of K4-R3N after I had finished my conversation with her. K4-R3N is a robot receptionist who can switch from eager to please to domineering and catty at the drop of a hat, and whom I apparently annoyed so hard with my questioning that it made her think, “you want my attention so bad? Well, NOW you have it, and NOTHING BUT!” until I used Task Manager to shut the game down. I can’t really fault the game, considering the pre-release state that it’s in, and luckily this was the only time I encountered any kind of bug.
Another standout character is Pre-Order Earl: a classic nerd stereotype made of goo who has some slight cowboy mannerisms (that I would have loved the voice direction to lean into a bit more for a more dynamic performance) and who just can’t stop per-ordering. The voice acting, by the way, varies in quality. As an actor myself, I’m always finding myself cringing at the deliveries understandably often brought about by indie-developed videogames. And while I can’t say I was utterly blown away, I can say there are some performances heading in the right direction. Nothing was so bad it made me clutch my bleeding ears in second-hand embarrassment, and the best performances were greatly above average. While all pretty rough around the edges, a few characters like the aforementioned Pre-Order Earl could almost sound like they were taken straight from a Ratchet & Clank game if they could be afforded some more polish. But these characters are simply side notes compared to what I’m about to show you.
Yes, there is a Cherry Jelly-Dog. Yes, you can pet them. And why yes, I do sense an upcoming contender for GameCola’s Best New Character of the Year if the winners of years past are any indication. Cherry Jelly-Dog might just be in danger of losing to Mr. Conbini (a dancing, Japanese speaking, clipart moustache that sells you refreshments, as well as being my personal favourite character). Again, these characters are just a few of the interesting designs you’ll find populating the universe. Seeing the variety of people you can encounter was a highlight of the game for me. Another well done part of the game is the comedy. Nothing in the short demo made me truly bust a gut, but I definitely enjoyed moments like early on when your ship nonchalantly sprays gas on the people below as it looks for a place to land. The way this is given a moment to occur just in the foreground as the narration fades, without really lingering on it, really just tickled me. I would love to see more of this casually dystopian sense of humour and what it means for everyday life in this society of gamer-peeves-turned-law.
The game plays pretty smoothly, and I had no issues with any of the controls. As expected from the genre, the gameplay loop consists of talking to people and looking around the environment to gain items or intel, but this is interrupted by a little platforming segment near the end of the demo. This doesn’t really get time to establish itself or breathe, and included a surprise timed decision-making event which really threw me off guard. I’m a sucker for games like Until Dawn and the various titles made by Telltale Games, so this was an interesting development.
What really pulled me in is the worldbuilding behind Space Boat. The tiniest minutiae, from the various fictional coffee drink names and their recipes to the planet-sized details, feel like there’s thought behind it. Of course I only got the briefest glimpses of this, but I desperately hope to see more. I want to know more about how this obscure planet became so iconic when they put up the Jelly Shores sign. I want to learn more about the seemingly Venom-like psychology behind the antagonist. I want to know more about how that one weirdo sitting in the corner properly digests his non-Newtonian foodstuffs and what sort of interactions that has with the alien concoctions procured from the barista.
All in all, the demo for Space Boat isn’t the most mind-melting way to spend thirty minutes because it is only a short peek into the mind of its creator. This is greater than the sum of its parts precisely because it is the personification of the promise for something greater. This is why I’m begging you to at least check Space Boat out and spread the word about it, if not directly supporting the Kickstarter yourself. Thank you for reading, and I hope to catch you next time on far jellier shores than our own.
Sick SpongeBob reference, bro.