Some matches are made in heaven, others, in outer space. Deep Sky Derelicts is already known for being a superb PC game, but it really was made for the Nintendo Switch. This compelling, somewhat repetitive roguelike is perfect for commutes both short and long, as well as for when you want to experience it on the big screen.
Deep Sky Derelicts is my preferred kind of roguelike. It provides the players with a clear narrative reason for reaching the end game, and it gets into the action quickly and cleanly. Every campaign begins with the players building a team of three characters from classes such as Miner, Bruiser, Medic and Leader, each of which has its own strengths and weaknesses.
Character names are generated randomly but can be changed, and character appearance can be customised. It’s worth spending some time here since you’ll be spending a fair bit of the game staring at your characters during the turn-based combat sequences. More important however is experimenting with the different class mixes — since each one is very different.
For me, the ability to mix up your team in such a wide variety of ways is one of the most fun things about Deep Sky Derelicts — and it’s certainly one of the most important decisions you’ll make during the game. After choosing your team, you’ll be taken directly to your local space station where you’ll be offered citizenship on the condition that you can locate the legendary Mothership.
To do this, you’ll explore the titular Deep Sky Derelicts one by one, collecting weapons, upgrades, items and loot, all the while facing off against deranged robots, scavengers, zombies, aliens and worse. Whilst most derelicts are sprawling and filled with danger, there are also a handful of friendly NPC’s on each ship, most of which will offer side missions that range from basic, localised fetch quest through to larger missions that span multiple ships.
Each ship is explored via the players PDA, with a grid-based system indicating locations that have been discovered, visited, or which are currently visible as the result of a scan, a power source or because you’ve just left them. Any darkened location might contain an enemy, and as the player moves through each ship, they may move normally, stealthily, or in a rush.
This matters because when rushing, any enemy you encounter will ambush you, whilst when moving stealthily, the opposite is true. Normal movement can go either way, but it certainly helps to use your scanner frequently to keep upcoming locations visible. Movement and scanning costs energy and the party has only a limited amount of energy per visit, although power-ups and in-game effects can restore it.
Aside from the loot and side missions, the reason you’ll visit these derelict ships is to gather location data about the Mothership from its main computer. With each new set of data, more derelict ships are unlocked, which eventually leads to more and more challenging environments to explore and fight through.
Thankfully, and as you would expect, the player party will gain experience and levels with each encounter and each successful mission, as well as access to new and more powerful abilities. Upgraded weapons will also be obtained through loot, trade and crafting, and each weapon (or tool, which provide support abilities) can usually accommodate two enhancement upgrades.
In addition to their normal levelling up, each character can also be augmented with technology that boosts their stats or initiative, for example. The party as a whole can also be upgraded in several ways, with a bigger inventory, larger energy reserve and numerous other upgrades available via the space station workshop.
I mean, so far, so normal, right? Similar features and progression structures exist in numerous games and are hardly worthy of specific praise. What makes Deep Sky Derelicts so, so good, however, is what each upgrade does, and how it links to the core combat mechanic. Every (well, almost every) weapon, upgrade and ability brings with it one or more cards that can be used in combat to either attack enemies directly, or to influence the fight in some way.
This gives Deep Sky Derelicts a deck-building element that really changes the game. Players can build their Bruiser to be a pure tank who deals a ton of damage, or their Medic to be a support character or give them crowd control duties, or simply mix and match the best abilities they can find across all possible combinations.
In combat, the way this mechanic plays simply could not be simpler and on each turn (order dictated by initiative) the active character simply plays one card from their hand of five (by default). The more focussed their deck is, the more likely they’ll draw a card that you want. Let your deck become diluted with poor quality or irrelevant upgrades and you’ll find your options on a turn by turn basis to be limited.
If you combine this large, expansive and genuinely compelling game world with the fantastic mechanics that the levelling, upgrading and deck building combination brings, you already have a worthwhile package. The loop of visiting derelict ships, exploring them and repeating can become repetitive, but thanks to the pick-up and put-down nature of the Nintendo Switch, Deep Sky Derelicts feels very much at home here and I think it’s all the better for finding a home on Nintendo’s console.
The visuals, which feature a chunky, comic-book style and limited animation really work well on the small screen, looking crisp and solid. Menu screens are clear and well laid out, allowing the player to navigate around each area rapidly and without fuss. Interface features such as the automatic restocking of energy upon leaving port are nicely handled, minimising frustration.
Aside from being slightly repetitive at times, Deep Sky Derelicts can be tough in the way that only roguelike games get away with. You can find yourself completely out of money, health and options at times (which will leave you needing to restart) and sometimes rival scavengers will beat you to the location data of a ship, causing you to waste a lot of time and resources.
Despite these small flaws, I love Deep Sky Derelicts on the Nintendo Switch and I think it has a fantastic mix of looting and upgrading, as well as a compellingly straightforward deck-building element. It looks good and it’s simple to get to grips with, whilst offering loads of replay value by having the team customisation element, not to mention the sheer number of upgrades and options. Deep Sky Derelicts is a game I think everyone should check out.
You can find Deep Sky Derelicts on Nintendo Switch and PC.