Deep within the spaceship, a lowly garbage worker tosses clumps of trash into the incinerator. Outside, asteroids begin pelting the hull, eventually causing the ship to crash on an uncharted planet filled with strange creatures. And now you, lone survivor, must explore and fight your way through an intricate maze-like world as you gather power-ups, fight bosses, and collect every little green square you see. In Wade McGillis's downloadable and mobile game Astronot, you get a good strong dose of pure retro metroidvania-style platform adventuring, and you'll love every minute of stranded torture it brings you.
The controls are very simple, no matter which version you prefer. Move left and right, either with the [arrow] keys or the virtual buttons on mobile devices, jump with [up], fire your little peashooter weapon with [X], and pause the game with [ESC] to check out stats or fiddle with the options. If you go for the download, you can customize the keyboard to work with your preferences, but even with a touch screen's controls, moving around the alien world is no sweat!
Astronot plays out like a typical metroidvania game, allowing you to roam an impressively large world filled with branching paths, interconnected tunnels, enemies, and traps. There are a few bosses to battle with and a handful of power-ups to collect as well, though you'll find they are few and far between, making most of the game feel bare and frightening, just like you'd feel if you were stranded on an alien world. The sense of danger is quite real, and since your moves and weapons are limited, your wits end up being your main tool for survival. These aliens do some serious damage, and it's not like there are recharge stations planted at the end of every tunnel.
Analysis: Astronot is an experience in minimalism on every front, from the plain pixel visuals to the background music which is basically just looping clips of chip tune sound effects. The gameplay itself is similarly stark. Instead of giving your character every ability under the platform adventuring sun, you're limited to the extreme basics and must rely on your own skills to stay alive. Even better, the game lacks any sort of map, so if you want to see the end of the game in one piece, you'd better have a good memory.
The downloadable versions of Astronot are mostly identical to the mobile port, though the controls are more responsive thanks to the presence of physical buttons. The full version also comes with a level editor, with the promise of an in-game method for sharing user-created stages in the future. The mobile versions have a shrunken screen to accommodate the virtual controls, which, while not really detracting from the game, gives it a somewhat cramped feeling.
Astronot fills a very specific niche: nostalgic players who want a challenging game where the main point isn't constant power-ups or a high five every time you do the equivalent of taking a digital breath. For this reason, not everyone will find a welcoming home with this game. It's definitely designed to give fans of the genre a more atmospheric and intelligent challenge.