Space Pioneer is a top-down shooter from Vivid Games that incorporates some rogue-lite characteristics into a cosmic, planet jumping romp. The combination of genres alone was enough to grab my attention, so I gave it a go.
The Galactic Federation serves as the Cosmic peacemakers, and they have employed you- an intergalactic mercenary- to clean up the star systems and quell the various threats continuously rising on various planets. Operations are going smoothly, until the Galactic warlord Xeldar rains on the astral parade. You must now track him through 11 different systems and put a stop to his tyranny.
That sums up the rather shallow story of Space Pioneer. You will find some fetch quests missions mixed in among the alien chasing and killing. To aid you on your mission, your mercenary is joined by a robot companion that will fight alongside you for the duration of the story. The robot will follow you around the battlefield and attack the same enemies as you, and is capable of a line or two of dialogue (Bruhhh, I know you’re under attack. I am too!), but there isn’t a sympathetic connection between the two main characters. Even so, it does become a valuable cohort on the quest to stop Xeldar.
Graphics and Sound
Space Pioneer is chock full of retro inspiration, but not in the form of the pixelated experiences that other top-down/side-scrolling shooters exploit. This game presents the player with an isometric, polygonal aesthetic similar to the likes of Star Fox, just prettier. Planetary environments are varied. You’ll see everything ranging from fauna and rock structures to battlefields of ice and forests. There is variety here, but it falls short of being uniquely creative, in my opinion.
Each level reminds me of something akin to an elementary school diorama project. One might take away the trees and fauna in favor of rocky terrain, but any casual observer can still tell it’s the same diorama box as what had been previously used. The same can NOT be said of the alien designs, however- enemies are well developed and take inspiration from all sorts of creatures such as arachnids and serpents. Only the scary ones, of course. We’re not hosting an intergalactic kegger here…
Though the retro aesthetics may fall a bit short of spectacular, the music doesn’t. Space Pioneer gifts players with a soundtrack that would fit right in for use in a season of Stranger Things. The spacey, 80’s inspired sounds never wore on me and never got lost in the white noise of battle. The upbeat and ambient synths are quite catchy, from the title screen to the end credits.
Space Pioneer’s top down shooting controls very well. The mercenary moves freely along the battlefield firing at hordes of enemies, and the controls remain smooth throughout the experience. Health packs, grenades and turret assists are available at the single push of a button. I needed to make use of those items often, so convenient access to them was a must. These accessories don’t pack much of a punch in the earlier phases of the game, however. I died multiple times by waiting until the last second to use a health pack. The pack works rather slowly and quickly loses effectiveness before it is upgraded.
Weapons in Space Pioneer feature an overheating function that can lead to sticky situations if you’re not paying attention. Finding yourself in the middle of a firefight with an inoperable gun usually goes hand in hand with instant death. Fortunately, this function can also be upgraded for longer heat duration and quicker cool down phases.
Each mission in Space Pioneer presents the player with one main objective, which will advance the story to the next mission upon completion. Each level also contains three separate “goal objectives“ that may also be met in order to earn more points for upgrading after each mission. These objectives include a wide range of trials and goals, but they usually revolve around achievements such as finishing a level with more than 30% health or finishing without using grenades and turrets.
The more objectives you meet, the quicker our space mercenary can become an alien slaying juggernaut. This is a tried and true upgrade system and one that RPG players have likely seen countless times with rogue-lites. This system is so familiar, in fact, that it left me a bit surprised and bored simultaneously. That’s one of the major issues I had with Space Pioneer: it is so unapologetic in how it recycles from other games that it left me craving anything innovative.
After defeating the first 3 missions of the game, multiplayer is unlocked. This is where one can have the most fun with Space Pioneer, in my opinion. A friend can hop in locally and join in the alien blasting, an experience that reminds me of time spent in the arcade as a kid. Often times, I’d be playing alongside friends as we tried to advance as far we could in a single cooperative sitting. The evocative nostalgia is noteworthy, but the continued top-notch technica performance deserves even greater recognition. Even as aliens, bullets, and a fellow mercenary filled the screen in the later missions, I never experienced any glitches, frame rate drops, or slowdown. Vivid is clearly a talented team that worked very hard on providing players with a consistent experience.
Space Pioneer is a simple game on the surface: shoot ‘em until you win! The straightforward upgrade system fortunately adds a little depth when you factor in the performance bonuses.In my opinion, the fun factor falls a little short in single player, but playing with a friend can be a blast in short bursts. There may be nothing new under…er…around the sun with Space Pioneer, but the game performs flawlessly throughout. That alone makes me excited to see what Vivid may be capable of in the future.