Part Time UFO Review: Crane Game Gig Economy
Part Time UFO is a cute little mobile puzzle game recently released on Android and iOS devices, and is the first game released by HAL Egg, the new mobile game division of HAL Laboratory, the company most well known for the Kirby series.
HAL has a long history of game development, though their less mainstream efforts have often been overshadowed by their major Nintendo projects, despite a few smaller successes. In the NES era, they put out the commercially successful and fondly remembered Adventures of Lolo series, in the last few years, they released another hit puzzle game series on 3DS in the form of BoxBoy! and its sequels, and now this.
It's always interesting to see what major developers who we usually see associated with larger companies like Nintendo do with their time when they're set free to experiment, such as what we've seen with Game Freak. In the case of Part Time UFO, we got a quirky, well-executed, and surprisingly replayable puzzle-type game to add to HAL's portfolio, and a strong foot forward for their first foray into mobile games.
Whaddaya say we learn how the saucer people pay their bills?
Gotta Get the Cash, Gotta Get the Dough
Part Time UFO has you playing as a tiny UFO that comes down from space, and once on Earth, happens to help a farmer load some fruit onto a truck. The farmer then pays the UFO for its troubles and gives it a catalog of part-time jobs to look over. The UFO then ends up back at a tiny apartment (presumably renting it out with what he was paid) and starts looking for work.
That's more or less the whole premise of Part Time UFO, and I for one find it refreshing. It's exactly the kind of simple, silly yet still reasonable setup that provides just enough context for the gameplay and world to make sense for a mobile game. It's not overly complicated, and it's not underexplained; you're just suddenly dropped into this quirky, little world and told to hop to it if you wanna afford some silly hats. But ultimately, the gameplay is what drives this game, and thankfully it's quite fun and easy to understand.
Part Time UFO plays like the kind of skill-crane games you play for stuffed animals in arcades and pizza parlors, only significantly less cheap and rigged against you. Using nothing more than a digital control stick and one button (or less if you choose to play in one-handed mode), you must complete a series of different puzzles by moving, stacking, swinging, and carefully placing a series of different objects.
The game operates using only these mechanics and a simple but consistent and comprehensive physics engine, leaving it up to you as the player to toy around with the unique objects in each level like a chemistry set until you find the solution you're looking for. The gameplay stays this way from start to finish, and while that may sound a bit basic, HAL compensated for this by providing the player with a load of very creative and engaging levels with different challenges.
The scenarios for levels range from loading cows into the back of a truck to catching as many fish as you can within a time limit to mixing a massive salad to stacking circus animals on top of a trapeze artist elephant on a unicycle -- and all of them are distinct and different without compromising the game's core mechanics. While the game does start reusing settings pretty quickly, this is compensated for by the challenges themselves feeling quite different and slowly becoming more difficult and minutely complex over time.
Space Circus Police. Nothing to see here. Move along.
How Much Time Is "Part Time"?
Part Time UFO is by no means a big game, but it's about as big as it needs to be. There are over 25 stages, all with three challenges to complete and a healthy portion of costumes to unlock for your UFO.
The costumes are all purchased with in-game currency, and there's no in-app purchases to be found, thankfully, so you can accessorize your UFO to your heart's content as a reward for all your hard work. While some costumes are just cosmetic, many others offer a slight change to the way the UFO controls and can provide helpful benefits to specific levels or even make the game harder, if you'd like to up the difficulty and challenge yourself.
This delightful gentleman with the lisp runs the local cosmic branch. See him for all your cosplay needs. Photo credit to AntDude.
As might be expected of the Kirby devs, the game isn't particularly hard, but it's far from mindless. The secrets hidden in certain levels, punching out before the often optional timer runs out, and grappling with the game's crane physics do lead to some challenge, but I rarely had to retry most stages more than two or three times, which didn't add up to much given the brevity of each stage. The main source of difficulty in this game will likely stem from learning and fighting with the game's swinging and momentum physics, which can give you a bit of trouble, but never came anywhere close to rage-inducing for me.
A Breath of Fresh Art
In terms of aesthetics, I just love the way this game looks and sounds. In all honesty, Part Time UFO's presentation reminds me of a lot of games. The art-style and scattershot scenarios remind me of games like WarioWare and Rhythm Heaven, with just a splash of the Katamari series, and the soundtrack reminds me just the slightest bit of LocoRoco. But despite being reminiscent of so many other games, it still manages to feel unique on its own.
The graphics are presented in a very pleasant pixelated style that is reminiscent of early games on the Nintendo DS, with lots of expressive, cartoony characters and little details in each stage. Everything and everyone smiles, cries, wiggles, and behaves believably, and much like the Kirby games, the whole thing constantly feels genuinely charming and friendly, like the game's just happy to have you around.
The game's presentation is about as soft and sweet as these pancakes.
The music is also quite good, if a bit repetitive. Every track in the game is a sort of remix or different take on the same song, using different chords and instruments, which provides a pleasant and consistent mood at the sacrifice of variety. It's a small complaint, and I must reiterate that I do like the music, but with the repeating settings on top of the repeating music, it smacks a bit of a game with a smaller budget. But overall, it's all very cute and attention-grabbing, and that's mostly what matters.
Is This a Position Worth Applying For?
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Part Time UFO. In the face of so many other derivative mobile games, big-budget Triple-A titles, and samey sequels and familiar feeling styles of gameplay, it's nice every now and then to sit down with something small and simple yet new and refreshing. It's a game that manages to bring the experimental charm of Nintendo's portfolio to mobile devices while simultaneously making the often-despised skill-tester crane game into something fun, fair, and friendly.
I can easily recommend this game to anybody looking for something fun and simple to play in small sessions, as well as people looking for new ideas and a moderate challenge, all at a bargain price. I was smiling nearly the whole way through. I'm hoping that we may see more from this game in the future, and I can't wait to see what HAL Egg does with mobile games in the future.
Part Time UFO is available now on iOS and Android devices for the one-time cost of $4. You can watch a trailer for the game below: