Tactics games can be unbearable for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s the weight of every choice and investment you need to make, and other times, it’s the varying degrees of unreliability that come with the “realism” of statistic-based combat. While many strategy games have gone to great lengths in order to alleviate some of these irritating features and pitfalls, but if a perfect balance has been struck, I’ve yet to find it, personally. Spaceland, from Tortuga Team, seeks to offer a more streamlined strategy experience- and with their pedigree as developers of the Braveland Trilogy, they certainly know a thing or two about the strategy RPG genre. Does this title manage to deliver an accessible, tactical experience, or does its design contain issues of its own? Read on a find out.
Spaceland has the player tackle a variety of objectives on a desolate, snowy world in squads of up to four characters, though you’ll eventually have a full team of seven to choose from. Each of these is representative of some standard, science fiction/shooter tropes: the light-on-foot scout with weak, pepper-spray attacks, the heftier bruiser with a shotgun and grenades, a spunky medic with an armor-piercing rifle, a marine, sniper, and grenadier… they’re all there. What makes Spaceland unique are its relatively straightforward objectives, ammo system, and snappy combat. Arguably the most complex aspect of the title are its small ammo magazines, which will need refilling if a unit wishes to remain useful. Ammo boxes are littered all around the map and fully restock a unit’s magazine, so it’t often beneficial to attempt to exhaust your reserves before accessing them. This clashes with the turn-limit objectives that exist, however, which further complicates the matter.
Almost all of the playable characters have some sort of secondary weapon that is highly situational, as well as a set of unique skills that have a finite number of uses per map. These unique skills can be upgraded via the use of objective-completion data chips, which are rewarded per mission based on what evident and hidden objectives exist throughout a specific map. You’ll be awarded based on whether or not your party members survive, how many turns you took, and whether or not you interacted with certain broken-down devices during combat. The only problem is, you’ll see your score card upon completion only, and though you can note how many potential chips you can nab before entering a level, you won’t see how you could have obtained them until you’ve won. The answer might be to just hug the walls and look for secrets where you can, except… there’s usually enemies clawing or shooting at you, as well.
Fortunately, combat is fairly straightforward- when you queue up a unit, you’ll see where exactly they can both move and attack, represented by blue and green squares, respectfully. This doesn’t factor in unique skills until those are accessed, however, so you do need to make some predictions, as there’s no undoing turns taken, not even in regards to movement, which can be frustrating. Objectives are also just as precise, requiring a single character to interact with certain objects in a room and very much evoking the feeling that the developers want you to play their game very specifically.
Aesthetics and Narrative
While Braveland wasn’t exactly the prettiest game, Spaceland at least does itself some favors with a pleasant isometric art style, featuring 3D models and animations. Everything in the game is easily identifiable thanks to the color scheming of ally and enemy units- the former wearing various tones of blue, while the latter are earthy in color scheme and almost always featuring an accent of red. Despite the similarities found in some of the unit types, their size is often a good indicator of their threat level, and they can be identified easily. Many elements are give distinct appearances due to their reuse throughout the campaign, forcing the player to be aware of their surroundings in order to master the scenario at hand. Likewise, the sound design and composition are equally pleasant, with every gun in the game having a distinct effect that pairs with the visual representation quite well. The soundtrack is rarely bombastic, relying instead on more subdued tunes that promote the game’s frosty, waylaid environment.
Though its visual style does lend the game a great deal of charm, the character dialogue is fairly stale and stilted. This is due to the translated nature of the title, but if the game’s eShop description wasn’t enough of an indicator, the character interactions that are devoid of nuance start at the beginning of the campaign and do not let up. Spaceland flows most naturally when it’s being a game- when characters name objectives and tutorial boxes explain game mechanics. The otherwise over-wordy banter is as cold and sterile as the frosty ice planet setting.
Impressions and Conclusion
What feels the most disappointing about a strategy game with streamlined combat are the oddities that exist in its character progression systems. Rather than leveling up, you’ll need to spend data chips to upgrade your abilities so that you can utilize them more in battle, but because there’s a limited amount of chips per mission and you rarely get the chance to choose your combat scenarios, you’ll be unlocking them at a slow pace, sometimes missing chips due to the turn limit goal or having a teammate fall in battle. Then there’s weapons and equipment upgrades, which cost in-game currency that you gain from completing missions or defeating enemies. However, you’ll receive markedly less cash when failing a mission, which means the only viable solution is to return to previous missions for a nice profit.
This is where you realize that Spaceland won’t let you change up squads once you’ve progressed further in the story, and that the game insists on repeating the opening dialogue cutscenes every time you start a mission (fortunately not on restart). There are times when it feels as if I barely scrape through skirmishes, resulting in few rewards and yet another new challenge ahead. Other times, it feels as if I miss a handful of chips simply because I didn’t interact with a hidden objective, which feels a bit annoying considering how crucial every single one of them is to progression. That’s not to say that Spaceland is hard- often, its objectives are straightforward, even if they feel a bit absurd, and enemies often possess specific behaviors and gimmicks that make skirmishes feel more like a series of environmental puzzles than tactical shootouts.
Maybe that’s a bit of the problem I have with Spaceland. It manages to streamline movement, momentum, and environmental interactions (kicking boxes and blowing up fuel tanks is always enjoyable, of course), but for every way the game is made more approachable, there are just as many weird features that complicate things. Choosing skills requires a brief hold of the Y-button, but you also have the option to swap your firearm for a secondary if you go backwards in the skill menu. Secondary firearms are a joke, dealing pitiful amounts of damage, but are made necessary in order to conserve ammunition. Of course, there’s also the issue of how action points are divided up among different abilities, which is never completely transparent.
But I suppose it wouldn’t be a strategy game without these kinds of minor irritants, and for the most part, when I tuned out the silly dialogue and focused on coming up with strategic solutions to the developers’ puzzles, I found myself enjoying Spaceland quite a bit. Though not my favorite game in its genre, it manages to offer a different sort of experience from other ranged tactics titles, resulting in a decently-paced, smaller-scale strategy experience.