Holy Potatoes! We’re In Space?! (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £11.99
Where To Get It: Steam, Humble Store, GOG

Holy Potatoes! Is a difficult game to write about. Not because it’s a bad game (It’s not), or buggy (It’s not), or even unclear (Nope, it explains itself and its mechanics quite well), but because it is very directly designed around something that definitely isn’t for everybody: Grind. I ran into this problem when trying to describe the first game in the series (Holy Potatoes! A Weapon Shop?!) to a friend, and now, I’m running into it when describing it to you.

I forget to mention this, but there’s a lot of root vegetables walking around asking for a good beetdown.

Mechanically, the game boils down to “Explorer planets toward a mission within a time limit, try and improve your ship and weapons within the limitations of the system’s store/loot, and things slowly get tighter and more tactical as you go on.” and part of the problem describing this well is that, while everything’s open (You know, for example, the damage ranges of your weapons fairly well, even before crafting them), if you’re not paying attention to this from the start, you’re going to run into problems later on. My first play, for example, started running into game overs about four or five missions in, as I’d sped through the missions, and not, for example, ground out the money with the spare time I had to improve my ship enough. I could have reloaded, but by that point, I’d already fallen into the urgency trap.

And this is a shame for me, because the game, like its prequel, has some charm to it. Visually, its simple and clear aesthetic is nice, its music is riffing on space opera, and the story also riffs on space opera in an often comedic manner, as the two heroines bumble their way about the universe looking for their grandfather, perhaps creating more problems than they solve. There’s a variety to the weapons within their basic groups, and systems are easy to understand, but success involves balancing these “simple” systems together, and that’s where the difficulty lies.

Exploring a planet generally takes 2 sols (1 to get there, 1 to explore.) So you can see there’s often a *reason* for urgency. Which can be tricksy.

Limited crew slots means you’re balancing goals, such as research, crafting of new weapons, and, for the most part, repair and refuelling in the early game means spending a day or two heading back to the starbase in the system. So, in one sense, the entire game is the balancing of these simple systems so as to not have mistakes that snowball. And this is what might put people off, that, while there are multiple paths to success (Being tanky as hell, being extra-shooty, special abilities, more crew = more guns), mistakes have a nasty habit of snowballing insidiously.

If you played and enjoyed Holy Potatoes! A Weapon Shop?! Then you will definitely enjoy We’re In Space?! , as it’s roughly the same tactical and strategic RPG concepts, the same balancing of “simple and clear” elements within a relatively strict time limit, the same random events, clear art style, charming and highly referential writing, but dressed up in a space opera leotard and packing laser beams and missiles instead of swords. If you haven’t, We’re In Space?! Has a demo, and it’s worth a look if you like simulation and “simple” SRPG type games. Which are still complex enough in how they work that a reviewer like me struggles to describe how it’s actually quite complex and interesting.

The game establishes its charm and reference quality early on by having a Quantum Cat. Yes, I *know* all cats are Quantum Cats, but this one’s more *obvious* about it.

The Mad Welshman stared at the store display. Damn, he couldn’t afford both Extra Train Tracks and Better Rope. Decisions, decisions…

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The Cat Machine (Review)

As any cat owner can tell you, cats domesticated humans, not the other way around. It was a clever scheme, but only recently have we acknowledged precisely how clever cats really are. In a video game. Obviously, I’m not being entirely truthful here, this is just a charming puzzle game, but it’s hard not to talk as I have been considering the concept of this puzzle game: Descendants of Schrödinger’s Cat, stopping the earth from leaving its orbit and plunging into the sun… With cats riding on trains.

Simple. Logical. Cute.

Simple. Logical. Cute.

Yes, that is The Cat Machine. Much like a cat, it is audacious, clever yet simple, and unbearably cute.

I could have made the screenshots the first three messages of the tutorial, and I’m pretty sure people would have flocked to buy the game for charm. But enough purring in delight, let’s talk what it all means.

Essentially, it’s a track puzzle. There is at least one train of cats, different coloured tracks, and always, at the end of each, a white cat. The cats must be directed to tracks of the correct colour (So they fly off and preserve the Earth’s angular momentum), and all the white cats must leave on the white tracks that are pre-placed. It’s a logic puzzle, and, while it’s simple in concept, it adds new wrinkles as time goes by. You cannot cross tracks, for example. Not even if they’re the same colour. And the cat train must never collide with itself.

Things start pretty simple, and clear...

Things start pretty simple, and clear…

In fact, half the problem with reviewing this game is because its rules, and its spaces are clear. Solutions, on the other hand, are not so clear cut. For example, you do not have to use all the tracks. But you have to be careful where loops are placed. I know in one level, I have to get the cats to finish, no matter how they travel, with two yellow cats. I have to think, not just in terms of order, but loops. And there’s this nagging feeling I’m not being as efficient as I could be. And I know it can be broken down by whether there’s an even or odd number of cats…

There’s not a whole lot of variety in the music or visuals, but you know what? The puzzle music is simple, giving you room to think, and the colours are very clear, which, as a colourblind person, I am very grateful for. However, one bug, which definitely needs to be fixed, is that trying to speed up the game will inevitably lead to a collision of cats… Even, it sometimes appears, on straights. That’s slightly frustrating, please fix it, devs!

...But ramp up in difficulty as the game goes on. This is still a fairly early puzzle.

…But ramp up in difficulty as the game goes on. This is still a fairly early puzzle.

For £6.99 though, there’s more than fifty of these puzzles (Which start to get difficult around six or seven puzzles in, and, if you like a good logic puzzle, this is definitely not a bad purchase. Apart from the tutorial, it concentrates on the puzzles themselves, leaving you to ignore the sometimes hit-or-miss dialogue from your mentor of the game, Science Cat. And I like that. It’s got a little charm, but nothing is getting in the way of what the game is: A good set of logic puzzles about herding cats. And we all know what they say about herding cats.

As he watched another cat fly by, The Mad Welshman mused about criticisms of Quantum Physics, Real Cats, and the elusive dream of the cat-and-toast motor. Truly, he thought, Cats are magnificent creatures.

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