Hot on the heels of this week’s shoddy Vegas Party, I truly needed a decent party game to sink my teeth into. Knowing that things couldn’t possibly get any lower than Vegas Party, I took to Catastronauts. I wont waste your time here, Catastronauts is damn near sensational. Comparisons will no doubt be drawn to Overcooked, as far as its gameplay elements and its design goes, but to write this off on that basis alone would be a huge mistake. Overcooked is the better game of the two, but if you’ve enjoyed that, you’re certainly going to like this.
Trading kitchens for space-stations, the game throws you and up to three other players into the role of the titular Catastronauts. There’s a total of thirty levels included, each presented in groups of five that are situated in separate sections of your spaceship – the game’s hub. There’s a short and intuitive tutorial to begin with, one that wastes no time at feeding you into the basics of play; controls, interaction and so forth. Once you’re done, you’re ready to dive into the adventure at hand to beat an aggressive alien race that seeks your destruction.
The plot is arguably the game’s weakest point, and merely serves as a backbone to hold the campaign together. That’s somewhat forgivable though, given than you’ll be much more focused on the fun that the actual gameplay brings above all else. Still, I cant quite get the annoying ‘nails on a chalkboard’ noises that the game’s character mutter, out of my head. It’s a small gripe and one that I wont hold against Catastronauts, but believe me, you’ll be muting your televisions between missions just to avoid listening to those damn audio cues.
Swiftly moving on. Catastronauts’ hub is split into six gated sections. Each section houses a total of five levels, and in order to move onto the next section, you’ll need to at least clear the five levels situated in the section that you’re in. There’s a reward system for each level, which is charted by star-ranking functionality, depending on how you and your team perform. There’s also a neat chart at the end of each stage that highlights individual performances; repaired the most, took the most damage and other like-minded aspects.
Throughout the course of natural play, you’ll earn new characters to play as, and although these are purely cosmetic, it’s nice to have something additional to work towards. Regardless as to what the game throws at you, the aim of each stage remains the same. Each stage sees you and your crew situated within a single-screen spaceship. Your opposition sits off-screen to the right, and will constantly bombard you with various attacks and abilities. The health of your ship and the health of the enemy ship is placed top-screen.
The ultimate goal is to destroy your opponent’s ship before they destroy yours. To do this, you and your crew will need to work together across a wide variety of different aspects. Each ship you find yourselves in will be equipped with unique firepower. Though, the kicker here is that it’s not a simple case of blasting your own attacks until your opposition’s health has depleted. Instead, you’ll also need to constantly repair your ship, put out fires and ensure that health-pads, weaponry and other mechanical objects are constantly functional.
I will point out that you can indeed play this game solo, in which you’re given two characters that you can fast-swap between via use of the RB, but playing alone is nowhere near as much fun as playing with your nearest and dearest. Catastronauts does a good job at feeding you into a false sense of security for the first few stages, requiring little more than a bit of damage control and use of your firepower, but before long, the game begins to take it up a notch through the constant introduction of new and interesting gameplay mechanics.
When you’re taking damage, the chances are you’ll find that a piece of equipment has been destroyed, or a fire has broken out in a section of your ship. To combat this, players must simply pick up a repair kit or a fire extinguisher, and hold X near the damage to swiftly rectify any damage. It pays off to ensure that any damage is quickly maintained. Repairing broken equipment or damaged ship sections will bump up your ship’s life meter, whereas putting out a fire quickly will ensure that it doesn’t wildly spread throughout the ship.
These are very basic examples of the problems that Catastronauts will throw at you on a regular basis. Later on, you and your team will need to work together to blast canons that can only be fired by multiple players, pass items back and forth on a conveyor belt when you find a level that separates you from your team, and even utilize teleportation pads and switches to grant your team access to areas of the ship that you cannot traverse to yourselves. If Catastronauts excels at anything, it’s its fun and exhilarating gameplay.
The game doesn’t hold back and for the first three quarters of play, there’s a constant barrage of new functions to get to grips with. As aforementioned, the game starts out easy by giving you and your crew little to do; repair this, fire that, put out that fire, rinse and repeat. Later on, however, it’s an entirely different story. You’ll find yourselves needing to periodically lock your characters in a room to protect them from frost waves or solar blasts, charging up rockets that will explode if their not inserted into a canon quickly, and much more.
I don’t want to ruin any more than that, because if anything, these gameplay elements are best enjoyed when they’re thrown on your lap, first hand. What I will say, however, is that Catastronauts keeps you and your team busy. There was never a time in which my character was static. I was constantly on the move, I was constantly interacting with some cool new function, and I was constantly having a blast. One thing that Catastronauts gets better than Overcooked is its difficulty curve. Catastronauts is tough, but not frustratingly tough.
One problem I had with Overcooked is that it often felt like an impossible task without other players present. Catastronauts, on the other hand, has a very lenient and realistic expectation. The difficulty curve is just right, making for an experience that rarely pisses you off and only encourages you to get better. Sure, things get much harder when you’re chasing that full-star rank, but at least it’s optional and doesn’t gate your progression. The only downside is that the game is quite short. It would have been nice to see more from it.
Thirty levels sounds like a decent length, but each level typically take no more than a handful of minutes to complete. Still, when all is said and done, that’s a very small issue for a game that gets so much right. The game’s visuals are decent, too. Again, comparisons will be drawn to Overcooked, but Catastronauts offers enough distinction, detail and diversity to stand out as unique. I’ll also commend the soundtrack, which does well to set the mood and theme of the game. The bottom line here? If you love co-op, you’ll absolutely love this.
Comparisons will no doubt be drawn to Overcooked, but to simply judge Catastronauts based on that alone would be somewhat of a disservice. High praise goes to the developer for their clever level design, and in particular, for how well the game’s diverse mechanics come together to produce such an engaging co-op experience. Short it may indeed be, but even so, Catastronauts is massively entertaining.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.