The backstory is pretty simple. No politics, no grand story… you’re just a guy who crashed and broke his spaceship. In doing so, the “pieces” of your space ship a scattered who-knows-where and you don’t have your most important piece… the warp drive (I think they called it something else, but you know…) and you need to find your pieces.
The mechanics are also simple. Your ship has eight attachment points arranged like a compass and you can attach pieces of your ship that you find to the eight compass points. Some are just pipe shaped bits, but others are rocket thrusters and tractor or repulsor beams and whatnot. With this kit you solve puzzles. It’s generally non-violent, but you do get to break things :*).
One secret to the games playability is it’s controls. Each item you configure on the ship gives you immediate choice of what button makes it go. This is cooler than you think. I haven’t used my Logitech Rumblepad much, but with this interface I’ve been able to use the Rumblepad throughout the game and enjoy it. This doesn’t mean I’m going to convert on the issue of mouse vs. controller for FPS games, but for this type of game, it’s very appropriate. A key feature is that you can map more than one item to the same key (or direction). This is useful where, say you have 2 or 3 rockets that point down.
This simple yet elegant design choice makes the game more fun. I’ve found, for instance, that when I have 3 rockets facing down (say I need to push something up hard or carry something) that assigning all 3 rockets to “up” is not always the best choice. Too much power is not a good thing. Using another button on the controller to control one of the rockets (as extra boost) is a better choice (or at least easier for me to control).
Physics are a big part of this game. Most puzzles are physics based. Your ship moves a-la lunar lander (although no limit on fuel). It seems that the alien world you come from has you immune to almost any form of damage. Smacking into things has no consequence. From the gameplay perspective, there is occasionally (when you’re carrying things) some penalty for poor flying, but generally the puzzles are enough here — the flying is just fun.
Some of the physics are not explained or explicit, however. Your ship has a propensity to right itself in most situations, but I found that also fails sometimes without full explanation. Some machines are sprung, some react to gravity or friction (as do some surfaces) but strangely others do not (often when it’s convenient for the solution intended). This was a minor recurring disappointment, but not a huge flaw.
To it’s favor, the game does force certain particular ship configurations or non-mechanics driven solutions on the player. The mechanics of the game determine how the ship flies and what the ship accomplishes determine the success or failure of the puzzle solving. I only rarely had to restart the level — many of the puzzles go a bit out of their way to “reset” from user attempts without the use of the suicide button with only a couple of notable exceptions. I still managed to get hung up on the scenery on occasion and some ship designs are just fail — but suicide is somewhat appropriate in these situations.
From the description, you could dismiss the whole game as “one giant fetch quest.” Fair enough, but each item is also a power-up. The more items you have in your inventory, the more crazy things you can attach to your ship to do things. It’s not like you need to collect fifty wolf-pelts to buy the hyperdrive — you get each module as you find it.
Now I will admit that the finding of about one piece on every level has driven me to some walkthroughs (because I’m a completionist). They’re often hidden in scenery or in a place the camera isn’t showing well. The game is largely 2D — certainly 2D in gameplay, but the levels do draw in a flat-ish 3D and certain bits of scenery hide other scenery.
The lack of an overall discovered level map also makes some of the levels confusing. Your “window” on this world can be rather small (although certain positions cause the camera to zoom out to view a whole problem in one shot) and this small window can lead you to miss things… either by it not being obvious how to get there from here (or what options there are) or by obscuring the path your ship must traverse with scenery that is “in front” of where your ship goes.
These are minor quibbles, though. I’m going to give the game a “must play” because it’s amazingly fun, but it also has a free demo available on Steam so you don’t even have an excuse for not trying it.