I’ve already failed. I’m not sure how, or even why, but surely there is no way to succeed in a game as randomly unusual as Astronaut: The Best. At least, no normal way to succeed. Fortunately, Universal Happymaker’s narrative strategy game is unapologetically abnormal. I don’t understand how I could enjoy the demo, but somehow, I do.
Astronaut: The Best dumps you into the job of director of the space academy for Flaustria. As the demo begins, you are greeted by the five Flaustrian High Priests. They give you the task of preparing Flaustria’s newest astronaut recruits for a boxing match against the serpentine Vladagar. Confused yet? Well buckle up buttercup, it’s about to get weird.
Right off the bat, I am informed that my strongest recruit is actually a Vladagan spy. I decided to kick her off the team, expecting to get a replacement, no such luck. Now I had only four recruits left to whip into shape before the big day. Better start training the team.
Astronaut training is carried out by selecting an activity and assigning recruits to complete it. Next, we are whisked away to the set of a bizarre game show. Here the astronaut’s performance is ranked by a panel of judges and the whims of the studio audience.
The gameplay is pretty low-key. You make a choice from a set of impractical options with seemingly no right answers and hope for the best. The astronaut’s attempts at their daily challenges are demonstrated to the audience by a picture of a spaceship haphazardly flying to the moon. If they have enough skill points, sometimes the ship will make it, but not always. While there are elements of strategy involved, you’ll mostly be relying on chance and dumb luck to succeed. Depending on your point-of-view this is either wildly frustrating or a case for replayability.
The retro-futuristic graphics feature wonky shapes and a limited color palette. This gives Astronaut: The Best an almost dream-like aesthetic. When coupled with the off-beat humor and narration, this feels oddly appropriate. It’s a risk to make a game that goes so far off the deep-end, but Astronaut: The Best will definitely appeal to a specific absurdist audience. That may just be enough to get their campaign where it needs to go.