Spaceteam (iOS) review

Spaceteam is a new iOS game from independent developer Henry Smith. It’s distributed as a free download with additional in-app purchases of optional upgrades, and presents an interesting twist on the concept of “social” play with portable devices.

Spaceteam is a cooperative sci-fi game in which between two and four players must cooperate to ensure their spacecraft survives for as long as possible. The game requires its players to in close physical proximity to each other and either connected via Bluetooth or the same Wi-Fi network. This is because a large part of playing the game effectively involves direct communication between all of the players.

When the game starts, all players are presented with a different control panel featuring a variety of different buttons, switches, knobs and sliders, each marked with a nonsensical piece of Star Trek-parodying technobabble early in the game, and with bizarre symbols later in the game. Each player’s screen displays a single order with a timer on it, and the order must be fulfilled before the time runs out, otherwise the ship will be damaged and the large flaming mass from which it is fleeing will advance. Conversely, successfully fulfilling an order causes the ship to move towards the right edge of the screen, or to jump to hyperspace and the next sector when it is already there. Upon reaching the next sector, everyone’s control panel is replaced with a new one and the difficulty increases slightly, initially by adding more controls and later by replacing the textual control descriptions with icons. If the flaming mass reaches the players’ ship, they have lost and are presented with a detailed summary screen breaking down all their accomplishments.

The necessity to communicate with one another comes about from the fact that the orders displayed on each player’s screen do not always relate to their own control panel. As such, in order to keep the ship safe, players must communicate orders effectively between one another and fulfil their roles as quickly as possible. Once the textual descriptions are replaced with icons, this adds an extra layer of difficulty to the game — “flush the megacondensers” becomes “set the thing that looks like a tortoise in a shower to 3.”

To add a further layer of difficulty to the experience, occasionally the ship suffers malfunctions — panels fall off and must be replaced, liquid leaks down and covers explanatory text, and wormholes cause vision to be distorted. Some obstacles also require the cooperation of all players at the same time — avoiding an asteroid requires everyone to shake their device at the same time, for example, while steering around a wormhole requires everyone to turn their device upside down.

The game has three optional $0.99 in-app purchases available. The Challenge pack unlocks the ability to earn Game Center achievements in the game, the ability to start from the tenth “sector” for a more immediate jump in difficulty, and a “guaranteed logographic malfunction” in every sector. The Ship pack provides two alternative looks for the ship’s control panels. And the Outfit pack provides a variety of alternative costumes for the crew members representing the players who appear while waiting for the game to start. None of these purchases are essential to play the game and there is no advertising present in the app, but the app’s author presents the in-app purchases as an option for players who would like to show their appreciation and see him make more games.

While the game does not allow for online play with others via the Internet, it does encourage its players to be social via its Game Center achievements. There are achievements for playing with five, 10, 15 and 20 other people, and a “viral achievement” known as Captain’s Orders, awarded for playing with someone who already has the Captain’s Orders achievement. This will be very difficult to attain without Internet play, but it may encourage people to seek out other players to collaborate with if the game proves to be a success.

Spaceteam is a simple to understand but hugely playable and highly original iOS game, and makes a perfect party game. The omission of Internet play is disappointing but understandable given the game’s reliance on fast-paced interpersonal communication, but for an excellent example of what is possible when a developer thinks outside of the normal conventions of multiplayer gaming, it’s hard to beat.

Spaceteam does not appear to be listed on the App Store leaderboards at the time of writing. Check back shortly to follow its progress with AppData, our tracking service for mobile and social games and developers.

Play

The perfect party game, and a wonderful example of true creativity and originality in the mobile games sector.

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