Before we begin, this review covers gameplay accompanying the first episode of Red Dwarf Season XI, Twentica. As such there will be some very minor spoilers. (Sorry/NotSorry.) The review is based on the initial release of the game, please check the end concerning updates since launch.
Until then, let’s talk about Twentica. The first episode of Season XI begins much as many episodes do, with the discovery of a derelict spacecraft the crew decides to investigate and plunder for supplies.
The first section of gameplay is an on-rails experience, with Starbug zipping in and around asteroids while the player furiously taps at the screen to fire lasers at rocks that get in the way. There’s also sparkles of light you can shoot to gather energy, which is used automatically to “upgrade Red Dwarf”. That is to say, you get a higher score multiplier at the end of a mission. There’s leaderboards if you want to know how you stack up. Groovy?
Once you’ve shot space rocks long enough, assuming you haven’t been hit by too many, you progress to the next stage. In which you shoot more space rocks, collect more sparkly lights and this time try to scan the derelict as you fly past. Each section you need to scan takes a few seconds, during which any damage you take will disrupt the scan.
You’ll probably do fine and get past that step, though your finger might be getting a bit sore from all the tapping on rocks. Now, shoot more space rocks! Collect more sparkly energies! Scan even more parts of the ship! Don’t explode!
Made it through that, too? Well, time for Stage 4. It’s the same as Stage 3, except you’re a bit closer to the ship so your turns are even tighter and you’ll run into more rocks even if you’re very, very good indeed.
You may be sensing a theme by this point. Fortunately you have now recovered the episode’s MacGuffin and can move on to the next plot point.
MINOR SPOILER! Rimmer is aboard a Simulant ship and must get from point A to point B without dying. Again.
He does not do this on the show because it is a major departure from his very well established cowardice. First you must navigate him through various toxic vapour clouds and electrical arcs, though as a hard light hologram it’s unclear why the toxic clouds would even be an issue.
You control Rimmer by pressing on the screen to make him run forward, swiping left and right to make him turn. He can’t go backwards, which is also pretty smegging unlikely. But if you can keep him alive long enough eventually a bazookoid will be found lying randomly in a hallway. Quite what a mining blaster is doing on a Simulant ship… VIDEO GAMES!
Rimmer will then cart the bazookoid with him and occasionally come head to head with Simulants. Once he’s in range you can no longer move, instead Rimmer shakily lines up a shot. Tap the screen at the right time, shoot the Simulant. Twice will do them in. The Simulant will begin firing about two seconds after the fight starts, does not miss and fires a lot faster. It’s possible to get Rimmer’s two shots in, on target, before the Simulant begins firing. Possible, but unlikely.
Defeat one, move down the hall a bit, fight another, move down the hall a bit, etc. This goes on for a while, as Rimmer’s health steadily decreases from accidentally clipping toxic clouds or getting shot. And if he “dies” you have to restart the whole stage over again, even if you’re mere steps from the end.
And there’s no health packs. Or mid-stage save points.
All this would be *FINE* except you can very easily get into a position where neither you nor the Simulant can shoot each other. An invisible corner, for example.
Any other game you would just move your character a bit and, win or lose, you could move on. I had to quit the mission and start the whole thing over again. This time I did not try and sneak around the Simulant as Rimmer would more plausibly have done. If he hadn’t simply surrendered to the first one to accost him.
The next segment is also repeated for the final mission, with you piloting the ‘Bug through a wormhole, rolling around the edges avoiding space rocks and collecting sparklies. It goes on for about twice as long as is reasonable, but it isn’t terribly difficult.
After piloting through the wormhole with simple left and right taps you need to land Starbug on the planet at the other end. There’s an array of buttons on Starbug’s console and you need to hit the right one as the game tells you to do so and… that’s it. There’s a time limit, but it’s easy to keep up and just feels like too much busywork.
The next segment also feels like busywork – recharging Kryten. Expose his nipple nuts, attach jumper cables, then twirl the twirly knob for 10-15 seconds. Do it three times. Get very bored of the joke and move on.
After that you’re on foot again, as Cat this time, this time avoiding Simulants because you don’t have a bazookoid. Get hit too many times, die, restart the whole segment. Ugh.
If you manage to make it this far, congratulations. By this point I had had to restart so many times the game had been put away on three occasions, twice with no progress having been made. You might think everything above is overly detailed and not particularly necessary, but I assure you, it is. I need you to understand that when I say the next section of the game is one of the worst designs I have ever seen, I am comparing it to the above and considering that to be tolerable.
The truck you drive in this section controls much the same as the Red Dwarf crew. Press to move forward, swipe left and right to turn. No reverse gear because… Because.
There are barrels strewn all over the road. Presumably the barrel storage warehouses are full and nobody wants to drive on the road anyway? I don’t know. They get in the way and when you hit one, the truck takes damage. Fine.
When you do inevitably hit a barrel, because they are everywhere, they do move. Usually out of the way, sometimes you end up pushing them down the street. So your truck takes more damage while shunting the barrel. And for some reason your truck can come up off the road and mount a barrel if you’re particularly unlucky, forcing more damage to get back off it. FINE.
Then there are also large crates on the road. Hit them, take damage, they don’t move. And you can’t reverse. So you turn the truck, grind the nose on the box, take more damage, hope you get free and can continue. FIIIIIIINE.
If you manage to get far enough, either in this section or in the even more obnoxious repeat of it later in the “episode” there’ll be Simulants wandering around on the road. With blasters. Run them down, the truck takes damage, but they can’t shoot immediately. Go too slowly, they can shoot you and damage the truck. OKAY, I GET IT, THIS IS TERRIBLE.
No, you don’t understand, then there are corners. The first time you try this you’re going to barrel straight into the corner and spend a lot of truck health turning around. The second time you’re going to turn, but still hit the far side. The third you will turn too early and hit the invisible sidewalk corner. If you’re lucky you’ll succeed on the fourth attempt, but your truck will be so damaged from barrels, boxes and bastard Simulants you won’t get to the finish line anyway.
I hate that smegging truck.
There is one other minigame, a quiz on scientific knowledge. If you’ve seen the episode, you’ll know how that fits in. Some of the questions are harder than others but there’s a limited pool, they will start repeating and there’s no time limit or number of answers you’re allowed to get wrong. If you can’t get through on brains alone, start writing down the answers. If anyone tries to judge you for it, let me know. I’ll hit them with the truck.
Above most other games, I really wanted this to be good. I’ve been a huge fan of Red Dwarf since its original run and was genuinely not expecting much. A simple match-three game with the crew’s heads, cargo bay Tetris or some other Red Dwarf themed knockoff would have been fine. Instead, they’ve tried to create something that is somewhat original, but have got it wrong in so many soul crushingly painful ways. Cut most of the segments in half, or even to a third of their current length and double or triple the number of quiz questions and this would have been a fun little tie-in.
Asking $3.99 (Australian) and repeatedly kicking you in the bollocks when you try to play? Even diehard fans should steer clear of this.
[UPDATE] Since the time of writing this review the game has been updated, adding health packs to the section with Rimmer on the Simulant ship, the truck driving segments and running through the streets as Cat. Some areas where it was previously possible to become trapped have been fenced off. A few more questions have been added to the science quiz, too.
All these have made the game far less frustrating to play. It does beg the question of why it was ever released in its original state, however.