"Space," Douglas Adams famously wrote, "is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly hugely mind-bogglingly big it is." So when you receive a distress call from Station 38 in deep space, well, you've just gotta answer it! Yours might be the only ship for light-years around, so although it seems ill-equipped to handle the treacherous journey into the twisted bowels of the space station, it's your duty to make that very journey.
Pat Kemp's Station 38 puts you at the helm of a lander-type spacecraft, thrusting and sputtering its way through 38 levels in response to an SOS from deep within. Of course, landers aren't designed to careen willy-nilly through tight passageways, so you'll need to proceed with the caution of a 5-year-old heading off to school for the first time. Drag the mouse to set an initial trajectory, then release to launch the ship. Launching depletes your blue fuel gauge in proportion to the magnitude of your thrust. You may re-launch while in midair as often as you like until you run out of fuel. Luckily, landing your ship fully recharges your fuel for another leap.
The red gauge indicates the health of your craft, and unlike the fuel, your health can only go down. As mentioned before, landers are fragile things, and I think this one in particular is made out of porcelain and toothpicks. Smashing into any wall from any direction depletes your health, and how can you expect to offer assistance to those in distress when your own ship is just barely hobbling by? Best just to move slowly and safely from platform to platform if you want to be a hero ‒ little bumps don't cause any damage.
Every 10 levels, a new type of terrain is introduced. Pink plasma causes extra damage if you hit it; green rubber may be struck at any velocity without causing damage, but ricochets your lander away with a greater velocity; blue magnets grab your ship when you touch them, allowing your fuel to recharge without having to land on a horizontal surface.
Analysis: We've seen a couple of very nice games recently that have been built using Flixel, and Station 38 continues this trend. Like the others, the pixelated artwork draws you in immediately, and the first few levels serve as a nice, safe playground for you to practice launching, and more importantly, stopping. From there the levels ramp up to a pleasant difficulty ‒ hard enough to keep you engaged, but never really crossing into rage-quit territory
The levels themselves are smartly designed, taking full advantage of both the merry volatility of the fuel gauge and the solemn finitude of your craft's health, with the best levels pushing both to their limits. Often this is achieved through clever use of the special terrains. At first, it might seem that having terrain that never causes damage (bouncy green), or lets you recharge your fuel without truly landing (blue magnets) would make levels easier to complete, but more often than not they hinder rather than help. For example, the flip side of the green bouncy terrain is that you gain velocity, and since you always have to land at least once, you have to use your skills to slow your momentum in order to minimize damage to your craft.
What really sets Station 38 apart from other lander games is the nature of the fuel gauge. It elegantly imposes enough constraint that some forethought is necessary ‒ you might be able to simply wing your ship across a large gap, but such a move is pointless if it doesn't leave you with enough fuel to slow down when you've reached your target. At the same time, the game still provides plenty of leeway by letting you take as many jumps as you need, so you're not totally out of luck if your first jump wasn't quite what you planned it to be.
So what are you waiting for? Someone in Station 38 needs your help, and you'll never guess who it is!