Catastronauts brings chaotic couch co-op into space. The game was released on Steam, PlayStation and Xbox on September 28th, with a Switch version to follow. Its gameplay focuses around facilitating an experience between those playing, rather than being an experience itself. It’s another highlight of the ongoing resurgence of local multiplayer, falling firmly into the camp of Co-Op game that encourages both team work and working against each other.
The plot excuse for this gameplay is minor but enjoyably honest. A short cut scene reveals a kidnapping has forced you to take to a fleet of increasingly wacky and broken spaceships. This is a fun little cinematic and it’s wrapped up again at the end, but its largely irrelevant to the actual experience. Each level centres around doing enough damage to an enemy ship to take it down, while trying to stop your own vessel from sinking, freezing, or more often than not bursting into flames.
The game doesn’t offer much of a single player experience. You’re welcome to give it a go, but it’s likely to be incredibly difficult and not particularly fun. Instead, it excels at facilitating a fun experience for a group of players as you try to tackle each problem. Co-Op play can be co-operative or once airlock doors come into play it ventures into the spiteful. Sending a team mate flying into deep space to put out a fire is particularly rewarding after they’ve ensured failure for the last few rounds.
Catastronauts – Astronauts Beset By Catastrophe
Each level has a different set up for you to deal damage to the enemy ship and different ways for your ship to become a fiery grave. The creativity in these has to be appreciated, solar flares and waves of ice are a particularly annoying highlight. A ship prone to constant bouts of self-destruction forces two players to drop everything and stop that. Some have missiles to avoided. Hazards that begin to crop up include teleportation, divided levels and conveyor belts. This all begs the question who designed these spaceships?
The methods of attacking aren’t quite as varied as the ways to die. Some guns require charging, others need two to operate, and some will explode and overheat if left to their own devices. Each requires some degree of maintenance and will routinely burst into wreckage after enemy attacks. The variety is there, but it too often feels like you’re essentially repeating the same steps.
Enemies fire lasers that deal damage to your own ship, forcing you to repair them and put out fires. In some scenarios bombs are somehow dropped into your ship. Missile hits also force you to drop absolutely everything to deal with them before your ship is burnt. This time juggling is what makes it such a good experience in local Co-Op. It’s the same sort of organisational based challenge that’s been so popular with overcooked, but placed into a sci-fi environment. This gives it quite a fresh feel, it invokes a co-op focused experience with great creativity.
Quality of Life in a Space Fleet
The scoring system in Catastronauts can be confusing. Your performance is ranked out of three stars, probably tied to the condition your ship and how quickly you finished. However, points or values are not made clear. This makes the star system a lot more frustrating than the identical system at work in Overcooked. Without providing any explanation of how to acquire more stars at the end of the level, its difficult to have much motivation to continually try to get those full marks. It also seems likely that star system doesn’t take into account how many players are players, holding everyone to the standard of a fully manned four person ship.
There are some small touches in Catastronauts that really make a difference. The hub world an active space hub with other Astronauts milling around. One world features the level entry points in front of other recruits training on treadmills. Another has the ships control station behind you, where one of the workers is loudly snoring. The character options to play as are also fun. Each is fairly unique. The series takes a bit of everything from a lot of recognisable sci-fi but draws heavily from Star Trek. This gives you a choice or normal people, cats, green skinned aliens and Borg-like people.
Following the completion of a level, a snapshot is taken of your crew and your grade. Pressing buttons during the posing for this photo lets you personalise it, timing a jump or a dab for comic effect becomes a fun mini-game. This is a small feature, but it contributes to the experience of those playing together. Adding even more interaction in your living room, even in the grading section after a level. These little details go a long way to making Catastronautssuch an enjoyable title.
The Terracotta Army of Enemy Ships
The only real problem with the game is the feeling that you’re repeating the same things over and over again. In this sort of multiplayer based gameplay, it’s easy to happen. That each level is attrition of a health bar can make the firing of the identical guns in each round feel more like a chore. The exciting parts of the level are the catastrophes that might hit you. In small bursts this is not much of a problem, over 25 levels the identical gameplay does occasionally become stale.
The game does try to address this with the levels that feature guns that need two players to operate, or missiles that need crafting. Many need batteries charged and placed, but each of these is essentially just another maintenance step before you press the big green button. While you’re having fun plying though, you probably won’t notice outside of getting a little bored of the same end level sequence.
Any more than 25 probably would have necessitated a goal outside of ‘shoot down the other ship’. However, in small batches and with a great experience playing it’s not much of a problem. In this way Catastronauts leaves itself open for DLC or a sequel, but hopefully one that takes the most creative aspects of the game while innovating on the repetitive ones.
- Fun Multiplayer Experience
- Creative use of hub world
- Lively characters
- About the right length
- Great variety in hazards
- Firing on enemy ships can become tedious
- Ambiguous scoring system
Catastronauts is a fun, well crafted multiplayer experience. It is occasionally repetitive, sometimes keeping the guns firing feels like a war of attrition. The fates that can await your characters keep the game interesting from level to level and world to world, but it’s the co-op experience that will keep you playing. Catastronauts excels at facilitating you and whoever you’re playing with having a lot of fun. Which is essentially all you need from a party game.