Silly space pirates will be eaten by suns in Pan Galactic Railway


Intergalactic Planetary

As a child, I always wanted a slip and slide, a flat lawn slide that pivoted slipping to death into family fun. I asked my parents over and over until my dad said: "Son, where do you think you're going to set that up, in this apartment building's all-concrete parking lot? You would bust your face." I looked to my mom for an appeal, hoping she'd be the voice of reason. She grinned and added: "No comas mierda." (Literally: Do not eat shit)

I didn't occur to me that we also needed a yard, running water, a hose, and a large section of real estate that was ours. Kids don't think that way. Parks were also not an option, as that's where you'd go to get your toys and beepers stolen. I knew we were poor, but that particular incident added a lot of texture. Now, you're probably thinking, what the f--- does that have to do with a game where you drive the only known space train in the universe?


Pan Galactic Railway is having its first public play test at BitSummit Kyoto, a new game by studio @DaveMakes (Dave Hoffman, an American game developer working in Japan). There, it was nominated for the visual excellence award. Everybody loves fuzzy planets.

The pitch caught my eye. In Dave's words, it's "an open world game set in space, where you explore galaxies, haul cargo, fight pirates, and meet a cast of characters who will help you in your journey across the stars. The more cargo you add to your train, the more unwieldy it will become as you dodge suns, bounce off planets, and run across enemies who might just chomp your cars in half. Luckily, you'll be upgrading your weapons and abilities to find ever more valuable resources in increasingly dangerous galaxies." The cast includes Octavia, the pilot, Vani, the CEO, Kayo, the engineer, and Jaq, the pirate. They have all kinds of physical and emotional baggage to work through as you progress through the game. 

I was instantly drawn to the purity of the action and quirkiness of the title. It's a ridiculous premise that's easy to get into, and there's only three buttons or so to figure out. You boost, you shoot, you pray not to wobble yourself and passengers into a burning sun. There's an Ikaruga style giant blade that you can whip out at any time. I really dug the fuzzy art style of the planets and overall minimal UI. The game hooks you with its physics, and that's where I almost lost my mind.

To be perfectly honest, I was ready to throw the controller at the television after five minutes of play time. I was not able to perform a simple slip and slide.

Not in the way I wanted to anyway, no matter how patient and rational I was. I would straighten out my ship, wait patiently, and blast the thrusters -- and still spin in circles as one planet threw me into the other's orbit. "Why do I suck so bad at this??!" I couldn't even begin to master the quick hairpin turns and 180 turnabouts with the grace and hostility as the player in the video trailer. "What is wrong with me?"

Then it dawned on me: "Oh duh, I'm poor."

The game both punishes and rewards you for trying to do too little or too much. Carry no cargo, you're too light (and at the mercy of any small object's gravitational pull). Carry too much cargo and you're a sitting duck. Like Tyler Durden's spirit animal advises, I had to just chill the hell out and go with the flow.

You can upgrade your ship in various ways, such as how strong the boosters are and how much fuel you can carry at once to fire them in succession. I was frustrated because I hadn't visited a Hoshi Station to upgrade my thrusters. (side note: Hoshi translates to either "glittering star" or "thing I want", depending how you pronounce the i. Quite a brilliant choice of name, 10/10). Most importantly, I also wasn't carrying any precious cargo, meaning that I didn't have a long tail to act as a counterweight. It's infinitely easier to pilot once you do these things. When your ship is barebones the celestial bodies will not let you go so easily.

After a few gathering missions and spending some loot, I was starting to hit my stride. I just had to be patient, work pragmatically in one direction towards the markers on the edges of the screen, and sack their riches for my train. Felt good, man. At that point, it just becomes fun to wiggle around with tons of cargo and see what you can get away with before a pirate spots you. The game procedurally generates some parts of the map, with quests littered in between.

The beta I tested didn't have an ending, and though keyboard and gamepad were supported I wasn't able to map the buttons in a way that was comfortable for me. I generally prefer to fire with either triggers or X instead of B, which was the default. Mr. Hoffman confirmed that mappable controls will be in the final product as he wants to "make this thing as accessible as possible for everyone". The analog and D-pad responsiveness felt good, and even on a low-spec computer the frames never missed a beat. I'm looking forward to where this goes and what happens to the crew. 

Oh, so back to my traumatic childhood: I never buy a slip and slide but I totally got to try one at a drunken barbecue much later, and it was totally worth the wait and, ahem, grass burns. Pan Galactic Railway is still very early in development and may release next year, or as Dave noted on his site, it will ship "when it's ready." 

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Niero Gonzalez
Niero GonzalezMeat Vessel   gamer profile

I keep Destructoid weird. Also I'm a playable character in Retro City Rampage, look: (along with the whole 2009 Dtoid Editorial team) Sometimes I have a villainous mustache My dog CoCo chec... more + disclosures



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