Space Pioneer – Nintendo Switch
Developed By: Vivid Games
Published By: QubicGames
Category: Isometric Arcade Shooter
Release Date: December 6, 2019
One of the biggest talking points of the last decade has been loot boxes in gaming. Gaming has been at a crossroads for a while now ever since loot box mechanics became embedded in more and more games. Where once you would own all the content of COD and FIFA outright when you bought those games, this is now no longer the case. As many gamers have come to expect from publishers such as EA (who lobbied loot boxes were ‘surprise mechanics’ at a hearing in 2019), when they see financial opportunity they go all in.
Nintendo however has for now stood on the sidelines and watched how other publishers have implemented such mechanics in their AAA titles. Only really in the mobile space has Nintendo experimented themselves with such mechanics in Fire Emblem Heroes, Animal Crossing Pocket Camp and Mario Kart Tour to name a few. Opinion is quite divided on the matter, with some gamers embracing it, and some decrying the potential competitive disadvantage of those with deeper pockets. It is a hot debate in governments too with Belgium one of the countries to outright ban loot boxes, and many other countries investigating and debating whether they should follow suit. So what happens when you have a game with loot boxes it doesn’t charge you for? Let’s find out.
Space Pioneer is the latest game from Polish publisher QubicGames. Polish mobile developer Vivid Games is the developer, and originally released this as a free to play mobile game in 2017. It is an isometric run and gun shooter where you play a bounty hunter who must travel through space from planet to planet to fight arenas of enemies and complete objectives to complete each mission.
Each level requires you to complete objectives to complete the level mission, such as find and power up a battery, protect a power station or defeat a mini boss. In a homage to Metroid each level is on a separate planet, and a number of planets make up each chapter with a couple of boss levels in each chapter. In each level you also have 3 challenges to complete, with a star earnt for each completed challenge such as defeat enemies with a specific weapon or keep your HP above a certain percentage. Stars earnt from completed challenges are required to progress so you can open up new chapters with new levels. Not only that, you have rewards and trophies you can earn through completing the tasks for each.
Your character earns experience points at the end of each level and through upgrading your weapons and gear using weapon/gear collectible cards. These cards are used to upgrade your weapons and gear and you need a specific number of cards for the weapon/gear you want to upgrade as well as a specific number of coins. When your character levels up you are granted a loot box with a random selection of cards and/or coins, but your character’s attributes don’t increase as this is only done through enhanced gear/weapons. There are quite a few different weapons and secondary weapons to play with and upgrade, with different weapons sometimes needed to complete certain tasks or you’ll find some are the best to use to beat certain levels.
Visually the low detail 3D art style is actually reasonable to look at but it is pretty derivative, from our character who looks like Body Harvest’s Adam Drake, to the different level themes which we’ve seen before. Performance is solid most of the time, but Vivid Games have failed to optimise fully as there are times in some levels where the frame rate absolutely tanks when at random occurrences a vast coin loot of hundreds of coins appear on screen. Music is repetitive and dialogue is minimal, although your mini robot sidekick spouts out an amusing range of catchphrases and quotes, including our old friend Reggie Fils Aime’s infamous ‘my body is ready’.
Unfortunately the loot box mechanics start to detract from the experience as you progress, and not only for the reasons you might expect. Loot boxes are earned through levelling up, completing rewards and earning trophies and due to the contents of each box being randomised you don’t know what you’re going to get. The problem in a game where you have loot boxes but can’t buy them is an extensive amount of grinding is required to get the collectible cards you’re after to upgrade your weapons and gear. Due to random element of earning cards, there’s no way of knowing how much grinding is required to get the collectible cards you may be after to upgrade certain weapons and gear. I never received the cards needed to upgrade one of the weapons so never used it and couldn’t complete some of the challenges that required I have it at a certain level. Other weapons and gear I upgraded to a certain level then couldn’t upgrade again as I couldn’t get the cards to do so. To compound this once you reach a certain level you no longer get cards when you level up, only coins which limits your opportunities to eventually get the cards you actually want.
There is also an element of loot box fatigue as you get one after every level and others for completing tasks, but this isn’t the only thing you will become fatigued by. This was designed as a F2P mobile game with in game purchases but the best examples of these games (such as Fortnite) have a constant flow of new content to keep you coming back to experience something new. With only 3 different level themes and many of the enemies and level objectives being recycled level to level, you see much of what the game has to offer after a few hours once you’ve unlocked all the weapons and gear.
The best way to experience Space Pioneer unfortunately is not on Switch. It’s mobile roots are clear to see and is one of the few games where not having purchasable loot boxes is to its detriment. The run and gun gameplay loop is fun and keeps you coming back in the short term, but over the long term it fizzles out after you’ve seen everything the game has to offer.