This weekend, despite having several a variety of enticing gaming options to choose from, I ended up spending most of my time on the iPhone. I didn't expect to, but I wound up sinking eight or nine hours into a new one from Venan Arcade entitled Space Miner: Space Ore Bust. The game's got a lot more than a clever title; space shooter fans and those that like a funny story and a light, accessible but nonetheless cool RPG game will want to be sure to get this one.
A Mining We Will Go
Space Miner is primarily a space shooter game, similar to something like Super Stardust on the PSN. In it, the primarily goal is for players to control their ship and destroy asteroids and other enemies. Space Miner would have probably had marginal success with just that, but the developers did a lot more and that was what made Space Miner really stand out for me.
After choosing between one of the two built in avatars (male or female), players enter their name. Then, it's off to space. Some nicely animated and humorous conversations between NPCs and your character take place throughout the entire story, which gives the game a much more substantial weight to it than if it were just a purely arcade shooter. First you will meet Uncle Jeb, the owner of Gritstone Mining. Jeb is the stereotypical illiterate, good natured type who quickly gets himself and his entire business into trouble when he signs off on a huge bank loan that he doesn't understand the terms of. Suddenly, Ms. Frost and her evil boss, Mr. Bashcroft, are eager to claim all of Jeb's land and his business. It's up to you, and your new friend (and Jeb's employee) Galactus, to help Jeb while also figuring out what is so special about this area of space that Mr. Bashcroft will go to any length to control it.
Players start off with the same weak ship they arrived in. A world map is presented in between missions and as you find more nav buoys in each sector, you discover more and more sectors to explore. All told there are some forty-eight or so sectors for players to enjoy. You don't have to play through them all, but it's hard not to. The game design is fun and rewarding enough that you'll want to explore each area, for completeness sake if for nothing else.
Obviously, just toying around with a single ship for the entire game would get old quick, so there is a nice upgrade system you can partake in right away. By destroying asteroids and Mr. Bashcroft's drones that are all over every sector, you earn money that can be spent in Galacutus' shop. Here you can find items like new Hulls, Reactors, Engines, Weapons, Shields, Scanners, and (ore) Collectors. All of these categories are enticing and important to upgrade, and with each new Mining Level that you reach, more and more options become available. Players max out at Mining Level 6, and I managed to reach this level after only about four hours of play. About two hours later I had enough money to purchase all of the top end equipment. So while each category has a lot of interesting upgrades, I ended up skipping over a lot of them and I finished the game with millions of left over dollars. That said, there was a good amount of thinking into what items to buy when, and that to me is one indicator of a nicely done RPG/upgrade system.
Each mission or sector that you visit generally takes about ten minutes or so to complete. That number will vary of course depending on several factors, like whether or not you died and just how complete you wanted to be. For me, not only did I want to unlock every sector, I wanted to earn a 100% in it too. Doing so simply requires that you collect all of the ore and destroy all of the enemies in the area. I think at most, sectors topped out at forty enemies, and once you have a Hull with a good carrying capacity, managing to collect all of the ore in the sector without filling up your cargo becomes not only possible, but the norm. Early on in the game though, you'll make two, sometimes three trips back to a sector to 100% it, should you choose to do so of course.
Sectors on the world map are more than just squares on a grid. Each sector has a name, a brief description, and a number to indicate difficulty. Sector descriptions change to show the amount of ore harvested too. After making your sector selection, you may be interrupted with an optional side mission from one of the game's NPCs. These simple diversions are brief and can yield a lot of cash, so I recommend doing all (twelve or so) of them. These side missions are made up of protection, gathering, and boss fight missions. Regardless of the type, it's a great way to earn a lot of money to upgrade your ship.
Many sectors also include crashed ships and a rare few include Alien Technology. Crashed ships will usually grant you a nice upgrade item that you can equip or sell to Galactus. Alien Technology is rare, but darn cool -- searching these yield substantial upgrades like "all kinetic energy weapons deal 20% more damage" or "asteroid collision damage reduced by 50%." Since your purchased Hull and Reactor determines how many weapons and Alien Tech you can equip, it's a great idea to upgrade those as you can.
The entire shooter and RPG aspects are tied together with that fun story I mentioned earlier. In between a lot, if not most sector visits, players will tap through humor-laced conversations between characters. I liked that the story adapts, to a degree, to what players have accomplished on the world map. For example, later in the game, Galactus can construct a device to help you locate Alien Tech. He needs three satellites to be able to do, but by the time I went to the sectors that had the satellites, I had already found all of the Alien Tech to be found. Galactus still made the device, but he and my character then had a brief, humorous conversation about how I had already found all of the Tech, so his device was useless. My point being, the game could have just ignored the fact that I already found the Tech, but instead it had a conversation sequence built in for the scenario I created by playing the sectors in the order I played them.
Controls in Space Miner are smart, responsive, and accessible. A virtual control stick in on the lower left of the screen while the thrust and fire button are adjacent to one another on the right side. I thought these controls were well placed and they worked very well.
All in all, there's just a lot to like about Space Miner. From the highly accessible, fun, and addictive gameplay to the pretty visuals and sounds, Space Miner has been one of the best iPhone games I've played to date.