HAL Laboratory might be best known for the Kirby and Smash Bros. franchises, but I do wish their other projects got just as much recognition. This studio made the brilliant puzzle platformer series known as BoxBoy!, helped create Pokemon Snap and Pokemon Pinball, and was responsible for one of the best versions of SimCity! While I would love to talk about all of them one day, today I wanted to share one wonderful title from this team that ran under my radar; Part Time UFO. Specifically; the Switch version due to it including extra features not found in the phone adaptation, making it the definitive edition.
Grappling my time away
You play as a kind UFO with a grappling hook who takes on small jobs, which basically act as levels. In this physics-based puzzler, every task revolves around you using your single tool for finishing an assignment. Maybe you have to rebuild a temple, aid a farmer to load his truck or stack pancakes at a restaurant? This solid variety is always present, and despite that there will be some recurring themes like putting pieces of a dinosaur or a totem together, this game does enough to make each mission differ from one another.
Each appointment is broken up into one main goal for progression, and three side quests to complete. Sure, you could help cheerleaders by only stacking them on a platform, but by doing so within a time limit, at a specific height, and with a certain formation, you will get more medals and money. The former is used to unlock more levels, while the currency can be spent on clothes to customize your adorable spaceship with. Once you have placed all the required items properly, your construction will be tested for five seconds to see if it is steady enough. If it collapses, your work is not yet over.
If you find yourself in a pickle, the option for co-op is always present thanks to this project supporting playing with a single joy-con! However, it will only be easier if you and your partner can actually cooperate, as the physics will always be important to take into consideration. Trinkets vary in weight, swinging around the crane can effortlessly cause destruction, and flying has slight tractions when letting go of the analogue stick. Details like these go even further, such as how the UFOs cannot go underwater or your claw needs space in order to be released, adding a lot of elements to keep you engaged. The depth a game can have using only an analogue stick for movement as well as one lone button to drop down the crane and let go of whatever you hold, is truly impressive.
With 30 stages to venture through, this title lasts as long as it should with enough variety to provide a captivating and satisfying time. It is outstanding how many creative ideas can come forth from one single concept, be it fishing, working in a Tetris lab, or even doing circus acts, all with a crane and physics in mind. Due to all of this, Part Time UFO offers tons of diverse ways for testing your logical thinking and steady hands.
Gameplay Score: 9/10
Still humming that silly tune
I love the pixel art in this project, as it gives everything a clear retro style. Each location is brimming with colours and clever setups, such as a museum with broken abstract sculptures, a circus tent containing a balancing elephant, and much more. It all helps to give this world a lighthearted feel, with a hint of imagination that makes it all endearing. The backgrounds are stunning with cute animations, and despite that there will be reused places, there are enough set pieces and characters included to not make any of them become stale.
Actually, all of the NPCs look sharp with enough characteristic features to make them charming parodies. However, the UFO is the highlight with so many outfits to put on, including a cat costume and a postman uniform just to name a few. They even come with unique animations when you push a button, which is a commendable detail. Other sweet touches that deserve a quick mention are how everyone becomes tense when your construction is being tested and that the main menu itself is a magazine you page through. The amount of creative freedom here is mesmerising!
Similarly can be said for the audio, be it the subtle effects of the UFO flying around or the noises coming from whatever you pick up, such as the gnawing of a guinea pig. Although, the central attraction will be the catchy theme song which is played throughout the entire game with strong variations to its form. It constantly changes in style to work with the environment you are in, like country violin at the farm, relaxing whistling when floating over the ocean, jazzy guitar and piano within the restaurant, and so on. All of this adds a distinctive tone to each location, with the lyrics always coming forth once in a while that is simply “Part Time UFO” sung by cute high pitched voices.
Presentation Score: 9/10
The extra missions for each task will definitely give you a workout and with how you will also get visual showcases for doing it all in one go, the stress to max out a score is severely increased. One type of stage has you even stacking as high as you can with random items, which will test everything you have learned so far! Being able to purchase adorable costumes helps you feel rewarded, but even the presentation of the achievements to acquire is charming and provides unique animation clips for your entertainment.
All of this would have been enough for me to 100% this title, but that is not all. You can furthermore tackle harder versions of each level that enhances the challenge significantly, changing them enough to make them worthwhile assignments to take on. Just not right away due to severe cases of deja vu. After the credits rolled where you can play spot the difference, a new mode called Treasure Island is unlocked! Here the setup is completely switched to a more exploration one where you have to find hidden treasures inside a cave! This presents a clever twist on the formula that is exciting and enjoyable thanks to the brilliant stage designs taking into consideration that you can fly anywhere!
Extra Score: 9/10
Going with one clear concept in order to flesh it out without prolonging too far to make the ideas run dry, is a hard accomplishment. Impressively, this project succeeds by having every puzzle focused on physics and making you carefully place objects and creatures around, providing a great difficulty curve that is never unfair. Coupled with a lovely presentation, a lot of content, and even co-op, Part Time UFO’s shortcomings are minor and should not detract from what an amazing experience it offers.