Space Pioneer is a run ‘n gun twin stick shooter that has you taking down hordes of alien monsters and undertaking missions to ensure your success in colonising for the sake of humankind. With its addictive RPG lite system and your many weapon and arsenal combinations to choose from, Space Pioneer seems to be the entire package.
First off, Space Pioneer plays as smooth as butter with nary a frame rate hiccup. The only time I noticed a dip was in the odd moment where there were a sea of coins scattered and enemies attacking which seems to push the game to its limits. Aside from that, boss fights and moments where you’re being swarmed by multiple enemies runs just fine.
Each mission is incredibly simplistic. I often found myself without reason as you simply proceed in the direction that the arrow points to. A lot of is go here, pick this up by standing next to it for a couple seconds, then go over there, kill the elite enemy or stand in that circle as it’s installing whilst doing your best to fend off the hordes of monsters coming your way, head back to the starting point.
With each level, you can get up to three stars depending on whether you beat the levels under certain requirements. These stars can be used for randomised objectives, giving gold upgrades that can then be traded for upgrades. It’s a fantastic reward system that encourages the player to complete the optional objectives whilst not hinging the entire game on their completion. In addition to this, Space Pioneer features a trophy achievement system that actually has in-game effects. I say this because when games that have trophies are ported to Switch, they often become redundant due to Switch’s lack of achievement system; however with Space Pioneer, these trophies have rewards that further encourages the player to take further note of the optional objectives.
The RPG upgrade system is where Space Pioneer becomes unbelievably addictive. If video games are designed to award the player with a sense of accomplishment, then being able to upgrade your weapons, gear and armour in a way that rewards you for your hard work on the battlefield is expertly accentuated here. Not only that, but the trophy system of rewarding your continued achievements with coins and upgrade resources makes the game feel as though every action you take, every enemy you defeat, is moving you closer towards your goal.
Your robot sidekick can also be upgraded and is used to fight alongside you. It doesn’t deal a great amount of damage, but it’ll take out the odd enemy or two and also help to pick up loose coins it runs into. It’s a nice little addition and helps you to not be alone out there in the great unknown.
On a negative note, the game’s boss battles can be simplistic and repetitive as they tend to be bigger versions of a regular enemy. Quite often, I found that I could win without taking a single hit if I simply continued to circle the enemy, firing my weapon at it and using my gear attacks when they recharge. Lather, rinse and repeat.
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For a Switch port, it’s always disappointing where there are no traces of HD Rumble. There were many times where I took damage and I was unaware because the controller remained perfectly still. There’s an audio cue that has a robotic voice murmur “I’m under attack”, but it’s not the most notable choice of cue.
Each level mission is incredibly bite-sized, with some levels to be completed in a matter of minutes (and sometimes less than). This works well for the Switch’s pickup-and-play nature, letting you complete a level or two on the bus.
Despite the levels being quick to play through, they tend to lack creativity and variety. Each level is flat with the odd piece of shrubbery scattered around. This diminishes any sort of exploration that the player may have thought to have as all you’re going to see if land and wall barriers. The terrain shifts from level-to-level (ground, ice, volcanic, etc), but they don’t provide any hazards or variety to the gameplay, they’re simply for aesthetic purposes.
The game’s plot doesn’t do much to break the mould and it is simply to act as a sense of motivation for the player. Your goal is to proceed from one planet to the next, conquering planets and taking on missions such as defending probes or repairing crashed space-crafts. If anything, the story acts like a read between the lines kind of deal.
Your robot sidekick helps to keep things lighthearted throughout the gameplay due to his quick one-liners. These are all taken from movies and pop culture, and any Nintendo fan is sure to know this one…
Graphics / Art Direction
Space Pioneer has a clean low-poly art style with a cell-shaded approach that never grows old or outdated… just ask Wind Waker. This helps the player to clearly distinguish players and enemies from each other and it is simply pleasing on the eyes.
Music / Sound Design
The soundtrack is quite lacklustre in Space Pioneer; it comes in to serve its purpose and that’s it. Like you’d subconsciously expect, the music is calm until you begin fighting with enemies where it picks up the tempo and intensity, but I never found myself taking much note of it.
Final Score: 68%
Space Pioneer is a great way to kill a few hours and its RPG lite system works to provide a thorough sense of accomplishment and progress. The lacklustre level design, safe soundtrack and a bare bones plot certainly holds the game back from reaching its true potential, but that doesn’t take away the fact that it is simply a good time to be had.
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