When pondering the exploration and exploitation of outer space and its resources, one does not often conjure images of knee slappin’, banjo twiddlin’, bearded hillbillies amongst the stars. But if one can imagine hillbillies mining ores on the American frontier — as most folk easily can — I suppose it’s not much of a stretch to imagine them mining ores on the final frontiers of outer space. Such is the premise of Space Miner: Space Ore Bust, the new space-shooter/RPG hybrid from Venan Entertainment.
Combining parts I Dig It, Flatspace and Asteroids, Space Miner is a rollicking (rocketing?) good time. A recent graduate from the space academy, you have traveled to the fringes of space to find employ with your uncle Jeb — said knee slappin’, banjo twiddlin’, bearded hillbilly — proprietor of the Gritstone Mining Station. Harboring great ambitions but little brains, Jeb shortly finds himself indebted to the merciless Mega Space Corporation. While Jeb wrestles with both his illiteracy and the corporation’s paperwork, the Mega Space Corporation dispatches mining drones to reap what they can from Jeb’s asteroid fields and it’s left to you to defend your uncle’s astral real-estate and business interests, and to clear his standing debt.
As it unfolds, the story is rife with humor, colorful characters, strange encounters and plenty of action. Using the Gritstone Mining Station as a hub, you begin with a lowly space cruiser and gradually build up from ground zero. With money earned by mining, you can purchase upgrades to your ship’s hull, reactors, engines, ore collectors, weapons, shields and scanners. Complicating matters slightly, the energy consumption of your ship’s payload must balance out against the energy produced by your reactor, meaning that you will need to put some thought into building your spacecraft.
Upon departing from the sanctuary of Gritstone Mining Station, you will conduct mining and salvage operations in open space, scooping ores and blasted drone remnants into your holds for profit. En route to mining sectors, your ship will sometimes be hailed by distressed travelers in need of assistance. These side-quests help to diversify the experience, and provide opportunities for reaping yet more profit. Side-missions may task you to rescue adrift tourists before they run out of oxygen, defeat marauding robots or defend disabled craft from attack while they conduct repairs.
The controls are smooth and highly configurable. I preferred to disable the thrust-button, tying movement entirely to my virtual joystick and increasing my maneuverability on the attack.
Visual Presentation: While I find the character art a mixed bag, the rest of the game looks fantastic. Ships and asteroids are rendered as detailed 3D models. The 2D space-scape backdrops feature parallax scrolling effects with nearer stars streaking as you move, giving a good sensation of speed. The particle effects during explosions and on your ship’s thrusters are awesome. I get happy just watching my ship jump to hyperspace. And the loading screens jumping to and from the mining station are great; I love watching my ship cruise by the fixed position camera.
Controls: Highly configurable and super tight, you couldn’t ask for better controls to pilot by. What’s more, upgrading your ship’s engines makes control even tighter. Sweeeet!
Humor: Space Miner is pretty consistent in its humor. You may not laugh out loud, but the game warrants smiles throughout. This should come as no surprise; if little else, hillbillies make for excellent comic relief.
Upgrades: The Galactus Traders emporium offers ample opportunity for tweaking out your ship. The flow of the game is very much akin and equally addictive to I Dig It. You will gather ores and materials to cash them in, allowing you to buy improvements for your ship which then enable you to make yet lengthier voyages in search of greater hauls. Those hauls are then cashed in again, your ship further improved and so on. Wash, rinse, repeat. The number of upgrades available and the frequency with which you will be able to customize your ship provides great incentive to keep going out amongst those crazy stars.
Soundtrack: Banjo music may not be what you’d expect in a game taking place in outer space, but it fits the tone of the game to a T, adding to the personality and charm of the overall package. Luckily, the soundtrack does mix things up a bit as well, so you won’t be listening to banjos all of the time either. Banjos with restraint; very tasteful.
Plus+: As if the game weren’t great enough without it, Space Miner features Plus+ integration, allowing socially competitive gamers to rack up points and achievements along with their ores.
I’m not quite sure where my life went … : The only thing I can really hold against Space Miner is the amount of time it’s sucked out of me since installing it on my iPhone. The nicely designed interface, the fulfilling space action, and the well-wrought and humorous story have sucked me in. Just one more mission … one more upgrade … one more sector … one more … … and then I should have made dinner an hour ago. I missed my favorite television program. I had some work I’d meant to do. There’s a sink full of dishes to be dealt with. And it’s getting close to my bedtime. But just one more mission and then I’ll wash up … I’m just having a hard time putting the game down.
Space Miner: Space Ore Bust has seemingly come out of nowhere. I certainly wasn’t looking for it, had never even heard of it. But I’m a sucker for space shooters and now it’s turned me completely on my head. I’ve been mining the app store for gems, and in Space Miner I’ve struck pay dirt. Like comets, games like this are rarely seen. Don’t let this one pass you by.