Rymdkapsel

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Platforms: iOS, Android, PS Vita, Steam, Humble, Independent,

Website: Grapefrukt Games

Soundtrack: Bandcamp

Styles: Real-time puzzle strategy

Traits: "Meditative," set start point, infinite build options

To put it simply, Rymdkapsel ("rimmed-capsule") is mesmerizing. It describes itself as "a meditative strategy game set in space." The point of the game isn't initially obvious. There may have been a tutorial, but I don't remember it. I think it covered the UI, but very little else. And I love it for that. It gave me a chance to discover, fail, and be amazed upon discovering something new.

I remember placing a square; then another and another until I noticed a progress bar on the bottom of the screen. "Wave 1" was on it's way and I had failed to prepare myself. I was about to learn one of many lessons about the small bit of space known as Rymdkapsel.

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You are in charge of a small space station. You begin the same way every time; on a small area with an amount of somewhat abstract resources to build with. They're called Energy, Minerals, and Food. Each piece you place must connect to an existing piece of the space station. Each piece costs resources to build. The pieces are Tetris-like in shape and rotate between a finite set of shapes; meaning the layout of your space station is based more on chance than design. You'll have to improvise and make the best of what you're given.

Some pieces placed produce resources. Some pieces produce "minions." Some pieces provide defensive capabilities for your space station. As I said, Wave 1 was approaching, and the lesson I learned was that this universe operated on a timeline, and that timeline is punctuated with waves of enemies performing bombing runs on my space station. My goal became clear; I was to defend my base from these enemies from space.

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Minions are funny little things. Existing only as tiny white rectangles. Simple but somehow still emotive. After some time, I began to feel for the little guys. When they're busy at work buzzing about the space station, they're upright and happy. When they've completed their duties, they flop to the ground until there is something new to do; listless and without meaning in the universe. Minions are alive until they're not.

Their, and subsequently your enemy are the waves of pinkish red aliens that fly through sky like menacing space eels. They gracefully wind around and around, blasting your minions from above. A minion not in a weapons station is at severe risk of being killed. A minion in a weapons station has the power to defend himself with shield and blaster. In the weapons station, a minion can easily best an enemy; but more enemies come with each wave and each wave comes sooner than the last. It becomes clear that your time in this world is finite and your job is to last as long as possible. How you accomplish this is where the beauty of Rymdkapsel shines.

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The random nature of shape selection and complete freedom to place as many of each tile type as you'd like creates a vast number of possible strategies. I tried working on my corridor structure to decrease minion walk times. I tried increasing resource production pieces. I tried increasing defensive structures. I tried investing heavily in food processing and barracks to create new minions as they're killed. I tried earning upgrades through researching mysterious monoliths.

Each approach had it's benefits and drawbacks. The game is incredibly well balanced. In the end, your biggest struggle is the balance between expanding to reach resources and keeping your space station deliberately tight knit to maximize your defenses. It's a puzzle that has no one solution. I believe there are subtle strategies in each of those approaches that should be used together, and that combined technique is what you could call skill in playing the game.

The art and sound are absolutely beautiful. It is the pinnacle of minimalist visual efficiency. On the iOS version, you can place three or four fingers on the screen and rotate to speed up time. That acceleration and deceleration is incredibly smooth, and on your fiftieth play through, quite necessary. A single game lasts approximately forty-five minutes, so the ability to fast forward is a godsend.

Summary: Rymdkapsel is mentally engaging without becoming frustrating or feeling like a chore after continuous play. This is another title that earned the achievement of "Girlfriend's Ire." I eventually put it down to play other titles, but for several weeks, I was sneaking extra time during lunches to get past 28 waves.