Disclaimer: the code for this Wii U game was obtained for free, from a source that had obtained it for free from the developer.
Affordable Space Adventures sets its stall out early, and well. That stall is this: you take control of a small spacecraft, built for exploring - imagine that "Starbug" from Red Dwarf and Thunderbird 2 inexplicably had a child, and you've got the look of your vessel. The ship lands on an improbably-named planet and you're handed the reins immediately. We're keen on not spoiling the adventure, so details will remain similarly scarce throughout the review!
You control the ship's many doohickeys and widgets, including its engines, scanning equipment and stabilisers, via the GamePad, which is laid out like the control panel of a spaceship. This does kibosh Off-TV play, but in return you get a game that could only be done on the Wii U. It's one heck of an experience, too: my first two notes are "atmospheric" and "incredible production values", and these remain true throughout. Each new level contains some well-designed wonder - if not many - and it's a credit to the design team.
To the game itself! As you fly about you encounter traps and have to alter the ship's settings to fly by undetected. Perhaps it activates if there's too much heat, or another could be called into action by an excess of noise. With careful management of your ship's systems, you should be able to creep by and live to run away another day. There's genuine tension in certain areas when the ship creaks past whatever fiendish malevolence is in the way and you sneak onwards.
A good portion of that tension is drawn from the game's trial and error nature. There is no instruction manual and no hint system, so you're always left to your own devices. As ever, T'n'E (calm down) is a double-edged sword: solving a puzzle is rewarding, but you can sit in front of ASA for hours, tinkering with your limits, feeling your frustration levels go through the roof, still unable to get past that darn bit. I speak from personal experience (and had to reduce the difficulty level before I could proceed) here!
A further point against Affordable Space Adventures is the loading screens. You will see a lot of those humdingers, which risks taking you out of the very atmosphere the dev team have tried so hard to create. Then there's the fact that it's sometimes hard to see what's going on, regardless of the settings. Very occasionally this can be put down to maintaining that atmosphere, but often not. Finally, there's the checkpoint system.
In-level, the checkpoints are thankfully generous, allowing you to trial that error in relative comfort. Switch the Wii U off, though, and you are taken back to the beginning of the last level you completed. In 2015 there is simply no excuse for this, particularly with the great raft of playtesters that worked on the game - did no-one put their hand up and go "Hey, let's have the save point be the beginning of the last level you reached... or, better yet, the last checkpoint you got to"?
Normally I end a review by discussing the game's bad points, but ASA merits a break from the norm. The fact is that there's a lot to enjoy here. As the screenshots hopefully show, it's stunning to look at (when you've got the time!). The soundtrack is filled with the kind of minimal pieces that reminded me of Metroid. The oft-mentioned atmosphere is brilliant: it's a one-of-a-kind experience, which kind of automatically makes it worth the entry fee. All in all, we're looking at something approaching a classic.
Final Verdict: In the end, Affordable Space Adventures does more than enough to earn its place in the list of Wii U eShop jewels. An incredible aesthetic is married to a singular, uncompromising vision to create a game unlike anything else at the moment. For all its polish, some flaws do tarnish the gem... but not enough to stop us recommending it to anyone who'll listen.