Dropping out of hyperspace, your one-man ship arrives in a new sector. You spot a trader lurking beside a nebula and what looks like an asteroid mining facility off to the right. Half-blinded by lens flare from a distant sun, you make out hostile ships attacking a service station in the distance. Do you harvest resources from the asteroid and perhaps upgrade your weapons or shields, prioritise the trader in the hope he’ll fill your fuel tank, or deal with the bogeys first? Hidden drones or turrets could be lurking anywhere. As you’re deciding, an enemy squadron surprises you from above and you’re immediately in the thick of it. Engage!
Welcome to Everspace, a roguelike slice of solitary space combat that has you constantly weighing the cost (or benefit) of exploring versus scarpering before enemy forces show up. A narrative hook means frequent death is expected (and even required), and while you’ll lose your ship, the credits you earned can be spent before your next try; persistent upgrades and unlocks turn failure into progress. Sure, you bought the farm in a spectacular dogfight or embarrassing collision, but at least you’ve got something to show for it.
Anyone who’s lost hours to space-based strategy game FTL will immediately note its influence on this Kickstarter success; developer Rockfish has bolted arcade-like space combat onto FTL’s sector-hopping resource management, thrown in a little light crafting and exploration and produced a real winner (despite the generic title churned out by the Video Game Name Generator™). This Stellar Edition integrates the Encounters DLC with new gear, characters and questlines, and you also get a digital artbook containing concept art, plus the understated soundtrack accessible from the main menu.
Warping between areas is done by aiming at a specific point in space and waiting several (nail-biting) seconds as your ship calculates the jump to hyperspace. A Star Fox-style forking map enables you to choose your route through the seven sectors, each with four or five jumps. Load times are quick after the game’s initial boot and you soon unlock the ability to see what awaits at each location, but they’re randomly generated from a selection of common elements and enemy types. Surprisingly, this doesn’t get repetitive; nebulas, ringed planets and stars keep things varied and colourful.
The story is enjoyable sci-fi schlock told via flashback with voiceover and mostly static paintings (think Bayonetta minus the crotch shots). A codex logs all the narrative gubbins, but really it’s pilot Adam’s banter with HIVE – your onboard AI companion – and the mercenaries you come across that keeps things peppy in the cold depths of the cosmos.
Controls take a while to sink in; forward and reverse sit in ‘ZL’ and ‘L’ respectively, with primary and secondary weapons on the opposite shoulder buttons. Optional gyro controls would have been nice for micro adjustments, although a generous (and adjustable) lock-on helps. ‘X’ toggles third and first-person views, but the low-res cockpit interior doesn’t impress and we quickly switched back to third-person. Of the handful of unlockable ships, our favourite was the small-but-agile Colonial Scout – essentially a TIE Fighter. We customised it in cool black with orange highlights and its cloaking device gave us the option to sneak into enemy strongholds and hack their comms while avoiding vulgar combat. Good show, old chap!
System damage is repaired instantly via a pause menu, assuming you have the requisite resources. Both engine boost and weapons fire deplete a shared power source, indicated via your reticule. It recharges quickly enough, and creates an interesting balance dynamic between manoeuvrability and firepower. Enemies drop resources, credits or equipment that can be swapped-in or salvaged.
On the whole, performance on Switch is smooth enough to be enjoyable. Flourishes like lens flare help make things cinematic, but there are obvious cut-backs in comparison to other versions – the kind of compromises we’ve come to expect with ambitious ports on the platform. This means 30-ish fps and texture quality taking a hit across the board. We’d wager there are some dynamic resolution shenanigans going on; you’ll notice your exhaust pixelate pre and post-jump. Entering large hollow asteroids hits resolution and even framerate, especially if there’s anything more than crystal deposits inside.
While these issues didn’t detract from our enjoyment, recommending this port over the alternatives is hard if your Switch never leaves the dock. Rockfish has made the right compromises; lower-res explosions and a ropey-looking cockpit are well worth the boon of portable play and the rogue-lite gameplay is well-suited to handheld. The smaller 720p screen helps mitigate slightly blocky asteroid fields, while lens flare and snazzy plasma clouds hide a multitude of sins. Sure, no single element compares well in isolation – especially when blown up on the telly – but as with Panic Button’s ports of DOOM or Rocket League, the overall experience is preserved well on Switch. It’s impressively polished, too; in our 25-ish hours with the game we saw just one bug (a G&B fighter fused inside an asteroid meaning we couldn’t destroy it and fulfil a mission objective).
Relative performance aside, the fact is we couldn’t stop playing. Piloting inside a derelict spaceport or claustrophobic asteroid is thrilling and there’s a real sense of inertia that makes simple exploration a joy. You’ll zip around blasting floodlights and goo creatures just for the fun of it. Lowering the difficulty limits potential rewards, but also gives you more time to explore before the Okkar fleet arrives. For such a solitary premise, Everspace has an abundance of charm and tempers loneliness with humour – keep an eye out for Maurice, the French assassin droid more interested in strategy games than bounty hunting. It’s a potent mix that’s a whisker away from another point on the score below, but tech issues stick out just enough to prevent it.
While reminding us just how much we’d love to see FTL on Switch, Everspace manages to carve out an impressive identity for itself. With gratifying space combat, an addictive ‘rogue-lite’ core loop and even some light, entertaining writing along the way, it performs admirably – if not flawlessly – on Nintendo’s console. Overall, we had a hell of a time with it and this port does a cracking job of preserving the full experience on a handheld. If any of this sounds remotely enticing, we’d heartily recommend investigation.