Space travel is a fickle thing. For something that requires massive machinery and high-powered rockets, a successful mission relies on intense precision. Years of scientific progress and intense training go into a single trip off Earth. There is no room for error as failure almost ensures death – be it a quick one from a fiery explosion, or a slow suffocation in the cold vacuum of space. Landing on a foreign celestial body is the most delicate procedure of them all, where making a careful micro-adjustment could be the difference between a successful touchdown and disaster. Yet here I am, thrashing my pod uncontrollably around an unknown planet. The galaxy is an unforgiving place filled with undiscovered beauty, and it’s become apparent my destiny is to crash into every little piece of it.
Here’s what I liked:
Wanna go home – ADIOS Amigos is a space-faring roguelike, but one that’s forgiving enough to have a few checkpoints in its campaign. In order to return to your home planet, you need to travel through a series of solar systems, gathering the materials required to complete your trip. The number of systems you need to pass through will always be the same, but each one is randomly generated down to the smallest bit of space junk. Each level gives you entire planets to explore, alien life forms to discover and a whole lot of asteroids to avoid, all orbiting around a giant central mass. You’re given free rein to explore to your heart’s content, whether it be flying around in your spaceship or going on a zero-g spacewalk. Obviously staying in the tin can is the smart way to go, as it’s vastly superior at travel and has a useful tow cable to boot. You’ll mostly be leaving the safety of your ship after it’s touched down on an alien planet. These planets are often ripe with resources only reachable on foot, changing the game from a space flight simulator to a 2D Super Mario Galaxy. Your little guy only has a flashlight and a jetpack with limited power, so if danger arises don’t expect to fight back. The best you can do is pick up and throw objects, but that’s more effective for collection than self-defense.
Let’s go to space – Reaching your ultimate goal relies on gathering two main resources: discoveries and energy. Discoveries are points of interest that grant you research points upon approaching, which are used to power the warp drive that takes you to the next system. These are usually large objects of note, from man-made space debris to terrestrial alien life forms, highlighted by a pulsating glow. Energy, on the other hand, is the moment-to-moment fuel used to keep your ship functioning. Not only does it power the thrusters, but it’s also used to repair the ship and heal the pilot. This fuel is a bit trickier to collect, mostly gathered through small materials that need to be carried to the ship by hand. Gathering discoveries is important, but the true measure of success is efficient fuel consumption. This means mitigating as much damage as possible, while also avoiding overusing the rocket. So much of your success boils down to this single resource, making the micromanagement of your survival easy to understand yet incredibly tense.
The best at space – What makes the game work is just how much it feels like space without being an over-complicated simulator. Flying your ship is as simple as pointing in a direction and hitting the gas. Being in a friction-less vacuum, your biggest obstacle is overcoming your own momentum; your ship may rotate on a dime, but you’re not changing directions unless you go full force on the thrust. Conserving energy is of high importance, so becoming skilled at drifting through the cosmos with minimal engine use is key. The game absolutely nails the feeling of being in zero gravity, whether it be deftly navigating a ship through an asteroid field or kicking off walls inside an abandoned space station. The game does gravity great as well, as the larger bodies pull on everything around them with their own variable strength. You’re really going to notice it on foot; some planets are heavy enough to make carrying small objects a struggle, while others are so light one jump will send you so high you literally won’t come back down. Every solar system is a self-contained physics-based sandbox, where every single object obliges to the laws of momentum and gravity. If an asteroid gets too close to a planet you’re on, get ready to dodge a meteor. Even the planets, whose orbits may at first appear fixed, are in equilibrium with their sun’s pull and in extreme circumstances can be thrown off course to disastrous results.
Here’s what I didn’t like:
Better buy a telescope – Viewing space travel is a matter of shifting perspectives and scales, which makes perfecting the camera a tricky needle to thread. The game automatically zooms in and out based on your proximity to planets or similarly major objects, buts lets you manually control the zoom if need be. You’re gonna need those controls too, as the game doesn’t automatically adjust for everything that comes your way, like an asteroid field. You don’t get free will over the zoom either; you’re merely cycling through a couple presets, and even then you’re locked out of a few while on foot. At greater distances your ship is replaced with a giant arrow, which is helpful for gathering your surroundings but is only functional when there’s absolutely nothing else around you. Interstellar camerawork is not ideal, but it’s at its worst when approaching a planet. The game treats exploring open space similar to the classic Asteroids, whereas terrestrial exploration is treated as a sidescroller where your character is always appears to be on top of a world that rotates under their feet. The transition between the two is messy, to say the least. If you’re not approaching a planet from the top, the sudden shift of perspective when you break atmosphere will give you whiplash. Mix that in with the zooming that occurs during the process, and touching down becomes a huge issue; I’ve crash landed or missed the ground completely more times than I can count.
Too big – For a game with roguelike tendencies, it fails to keep itself feeling new and interesting. This comes down to the planets more than anything else – while they’re varied in art style and layout, they’re all way too similar. A couple of hills or pillars, a few discoveries, and a smattering of fuel hidden beneath movable boulders. These worlds never feel like more than an uninteresting rocky landscape sprinkled with random items. Maybe there’s some hazards or extreme weather conditions to slow you down, or some odd life forms haphazardly running around to annoy you, but there’s never enough to make a planet truly stand out. They’re too small to have room for anything extremely different, making each terrestrial excursion quick and unmemorable.
Space cops – There’s nothing wrong with a game starting with a tutorial, especially one as complex as ADIOS Amigos, but the game really should have stopped there. In the early goings the game unlocks a new tutorial after every few runs, each one teaching a different mechanic. The problem is that these aren’t new mechanics — they’ve been in the game since the beginning and you’ve most likely used them already. The game even has button prompts to tell you when to use them in normal gameplay, so it’d be hard to be completely unaware of them. When a new tutorial is unlocked, it’s mandatory to complete before re-entering the game proper. Each one only takes a minute or two, but to regularly be forced into these redundant lessons is a huge annoyance.
There were moments during ADIOS Amigos that I got extremely bored, going through the motions of gathering materials and jumping to hyperspace with little investment. But every time I was gonna quit out of boredom, something amazing happened. A rogue asteroid shattered a space station while I was inside it. A giant space jellyfish kidnapped my parked ship while I was on the other side of the planet. I inadvertently hooked an alien craft who graciously carried me between planets. These random occurrences injected much-needed life-or-death intensity and are the epitome of this intergalactic sandbox, but in my experiences the game was more often too static for its own good. In a way the game is less about the worlds it creates and more about the insanity that could potentially happen — perhaps why they allowed for up to four astronauts playing together. Despite my grievances I enjoyed the game: it’s a solid, beautiful space exploration game — but one with too much space in between the good parts (pun intended).
Score: Reader’s Choice
ADIOS Amigos was developed and published by Cosmic Picnic. It was released September 12, 2018 for $19.99. A copy was provided for review purposes.