Capsule Review: Space Pioneer

Approachable twin-stick shooter action with varied weapon types and an upgrade system that can be a lot of fun for a while, but with no real story or other source of long-term appeal.

(A note on versions - Space Pioneer was originally released as a mobile title in 2018. This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version released in 2019 which has similar gameplay but a different structure.)

A level-based isometric twin-stick shooter. Each level is an alien planet on which you must defeat alien attackers while completing a series of objectives that are mostly variations on defending an area for a set amount of time. These objectives generally last a couple of minutes in total; each mission also has two optional objectives for extra rewards. Completing missions and objectives unlocks new build options and upgrades.

That’s essentially it. It’s a straightforward formula with no real story, worldbuilding, or characterization to back it up - it’s just the gameplay loop and the sci-fi theming. But that gameplay is solid and kept fresh by a variety of weapons and gear you’re encouraged to switch between regularly by the optional mission objectives. Some outright require the use of specific weapons or equipment while others are simply easier with particular loadouts.

Once you’ve seen all the weapon and gear types, the main incentive to keep playing is the progression treadmill. Continuing to clear missions and accomplish objectives allows you to keep upgrading your equipment and enemies are proportionately stronger in later missions. There doesn’t seem to be a way to finish the game - the UI implies there are an infinite number of procedurally-generated missions and it’s unclear to me whether the upgrades can ever max out, but if so it would require a lot of play time.

It’s a game that’s well-suited to picking up and playing for a few minutes here and there, and which will allow you to make clear progress during that time. Unfortunately, that progress does eventually slow down with upgrades costing more and more resources, and some of the cracks in the game’s design become more obnoxious. Some optional objectives require you to kill a certain number of enemies - these numbers increase as you go and eventually surpass the number of enemies you normally encounter in a mission, meaning to complete them you need to spend extra time in the mission just farming enemy spawns. It’s even worse when the objective requires the kills be with a particular weapon, as you cannot tell your robot buddy not to attack and it will steal kills from you.

These frustrations dampen the game’s long-term appeal, but if you enjoy approachable twin-stick shooter action with varied weapon types and an upgrade system, there’s plenty of fun to be had along the way.

I Stopped Playing When: I played obsessively for over fifteen hours, after which the game’s appeal diminished. There wasn’t any novelty anymore or a reasonable completion goal to shoot for, the upgrades had slowed down, and the mission objectives became more frustrating. I still expect to pick it up periodically when I want to relax with some low-pressure action, but it’s no longer something I’m playing every day.

Docprof's Rating:

Three Stars: Good. I liked the game enough to finish it (or just play it a bunch, for games that don't end). I recommend it to most genre fans.

You can get it or learn more here.