Sometimes when you first see a game you can immediately get a feel for what that game is all about. If it’s a platformer or a puzzler, a 3rd person horror or a first person shooter – you generally start playing with an element of familiarity. Other times a game will completely and utterly throw you. Astronaut: the Best definitely falls into the second category! This game is weird!
OK, with that out of the way, I shall now attempt to put into words some semblance of a sensible description for this game. Astronaut: the Best is a narrative strategy game in which the player takes control of the Director of a space program in charge of turning a rag-tag bunch of complete weirdos into a presentable set of space heroes.
This is done through training and discovering the astronauts various character traits. Cash is earned from 5 priests who govern over you and try to influence your decisions in their favour. The more they like you, the more money you get each week. You can spend this cash to buy items and equipment to give to your astronauts, or manipulate their aforementioned traits.
And that’s where the normalities end… In the demo, you are working towards a big boxing fight with a competing nation. They’ve challenged you and your strongest astronauts, and you’ve got to whip them into shape in just 10 days. To train your astronauts you are given the option of three activities to choose from each day, and you assign 2 of your 5 randomly generated astronauts to it. They then go onto a televised gameshow to partake of 3 tasks.
You choose which astronaut will do the task, and which of the three judges to arbitrate it. Each judge has a different difficulty to meet, and will reward you differently. Your selected participant then attempts the task, but you don’t get to watch – oh no, you are only permitted to watch a little rocketship try to get to the moon in the middle of a screen. If it makes it, you win. If not, you lose.
Your performance in the gameshow effects the shows rating, which ultimately governs how much cash and glory you receive at the end of the show. After the show you are often visited by one or more priests, usually with some bizarre request (like reading poetry in space) and you also receive phone calls from a floating lion spirit who kind of works like a cosmic guide that watches over your astronauts when they’re not training. They get up to all sorts away from the Space Academy, and you have to deal with the fall out.
What sort of things you ask? Well one of my guys decided to take performance enhancing drugs, this had a dramatic improvement on his stats so I instructed the other members of the team to do the same, so they all had the “Drug Raider” trait, which had a side effect of occasionally not turning up for training for the day. Another one, I had an astronaut who wanted to swap places with a street urchin – I permitted that too, as the urchin had far better stats.The swap was quite successful, especially when one of the priests fell in love with her and gave her favourable rewards in every activity she partook. I had another who though he was a werewolf. One who went begging for money. One who wrote erotic fiction. The list goes on, and doesn’t get any more sensible!
Like I said – this game is weird.
Graphically the game is presented as a 3D world with 2D characters. Kind of like Parappa the Rapper… I loved that game… Anyway, Astronaut: the Best has its own distinctive style, it’s surreal, kind of like the rest of the game. The background music is pretty good, especially during the phone calls, but the best feature audio-wise are the “voices”. Each character “talks” like a cross between a robot and the teacher from Charlie Brown. It’s kind of annoying, but also endearing in its own way.
It’s difficult to explain my experience with this demo… On one hand, I found the gameplay repetitive and jarring. I don’t understand it. There is too much oddness to process, too many words to read that don’t make sense. The characters look weird and say weird things. Every decision you make seems to be wrong in some way… and yet, on the other hand, it’s kind of… good…
I played the game to near completion, then it crashed for some reason – but instead of walking away, I found myself restarting (there’s no save in the demo) and playing again, all the way through. I wanted to complete it – I wanted my team to beat the other nation. I don’t know why… I can’t put my finger on it… It might just be novelty, or curiosity, or my desire to validate the time spent playing the game – or maybe it’s because it’s something different, something unique. I like unique.