Good Thing, Small Package
HIGH Outstanding handcrafted mission variety.
LOW It’s almost impossible to meet all reward conditions in one run.
WTF Why did I wait so long to try this?
The Switch has absolutely become my go-to destination for crunchy turn-based tactics (TBS) games. Not only is the portability a great fit for play that’s usually broken up into discrete chunks, it’s already home to several fantastic titles in the genre — Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, Tangledeep and Into the Breach are all stellar, just to name a few. TBS fans can now add one more to the list of luminaries as Spaceland easily earns a spot beside them.
As one might expect, Spaceland follows the general pattern of many turn-based strat titles – play is shown from an isometric viewpoint, and characters have a pool of energy that can be spent on as many actions per turn as they can afford – move, shoot, special ability, and more. However, while many follow this template, the details are what make the difference.
For starters, there’s just enough story to keep things moving – a squad crash-lands on a planet where a team has gone missing in a mining installation. They need to pull themselves together, gear up, and find out what happened. It’s not the deepest narrative, but it suits its purpose well and there are bits of optional dialogue between missions – a nice touch.
The character design is solid. Rather than creating generic soldier archetypes, each squaddie is a named character with a unique personality and abilities. Young guy Jim can dash while alternating between an assault rifle and a sword, Barret is a shotgunner with a pocket full of grenades, Marcus is a heavy gunner that relies upon teleportation and an energy shield to make up for his lack of mobility, and more. Each one has a specialty, and put together, they offer the player a well-packed toolbox to achieve different goals.
Along with these characters are diverse levels handcrafted with specific scenarios in mind. Instead of ‘kill all enemies’, players will be surprised by each new situation — sometimes it’s reaching an exit in a hurry, sometimes it’s a room full of bridges that can only hold the weight of one soldier but not two, sometimes a solider is on his own with no backup, and so on. Tactics turns stale when objectives don’t change and players aren’t challenged to use the pieces at their disposal creatively, but Spaceland absolutely knocks this aspect out of the park.
In fact, I find the balance between different objectives and varying team comps so engaging, I didn’t mind when I realized that most levels must be played twice to earn all of the available resources needed for unlocks and powerups.
In Spaceland, players must collect ‘stars’ and cash to improve their squad, and it’s not enough to simply finish a level. There are specific requirements like finishing without losing a soldier, finding a hidden item, completing within a certain number of turns, and more. As such, I found it necessary to replay each level twice — once for thorough collection, and once as a speedrun. This would ordinarily be a dealbreaker for me, but the focuses are so different and being able to switch characters on second attempts was a great way to get more playtime out of it — it just never got old.
My criticisms of Spaceland are extremely minor ones. For example, the game is well polished and finely crafted in all aspects except the hand-drawn art used for portraits and some interstitials. I’ve certainly seen worse, but it could be sharper. Also, the title “Spaceland” is painfully generic and says nothing about the game at all. I’m guessing that plenty of people who would adore it probably passed it over without a second glance thanks to the nondescript branding and lukewarm portrait visuals. More pizazz needed here, stat!
I’m glad my fellow writer AJ Small covered Spaceland on the Xbox One and reviewed it so highly since it was his recommendation that got me interested in the first place, and he was absolutely on the money. Tortuga Team is the real deal when it comes to turn-based tactics, and this entry is a perfect fit for the Switch — I loved every minute of it.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Tortuga Team and published by Ellada Games. It is currently available on iOS, PC, XBO, PS4 and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 15 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E10+. The content is incredibly mild – creatures die in a puff of smoke and there’s no gore at all. There’s no salty language and no sexual content whatsoever.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game is fully accessible without sound. There are no audio cues necessary for play, and all of my time was spent on mute and I had no problems at all. The text cannot be resized, nor can the color be changed.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. There is no controller diagram. The left stick is used for navigating menu items and moving the cursor, the A button confirms options, the B button cancels, the Y button is used for alternating between two menus/swapping weapons.