Welcome to Flaustria! It’s kind of like Austria, but more flawed. A lot more flawed. In this bizarro world crafted by the developers at Universal Happymaker, you will be put in the shoes of a space program director, who will have to guide absolute imbeciles through an absolutely imbecilic government system in order to not get murdered on the spot by the High Priests of the Five Gods. Got all that? No? Good.
Astronaut: The Best operates at its finest in full chaos. It is a text-based roguelite whose biggest strengths are the many possible, wacky scenarios which may arise in the process of training cadets and exploring space, all supplemented by stellar writing, which grounds this insane world in its own ridiculous logic. It begins when the player is given the option to scream that their predecessor was assassinated by the government. This, of course, leads to getting killed and replaced immediately.
Astronaut: The Best takes no time to set up its own brand of absurdism. The designs of the priests are striking, colorful, their shapes (and personalities) all different and weird. Correblanch, the priest of the Sun, wears probably the single most insane hat known to man. Inside-Track, representing the market and economy, is a long stickman bending in unnatural ways, flaunting their gold tooth and forever hitting some nasty finger guns. I can’t say I’ve ever really seen anything that looks like Astronaut: The Best, and this sense of amazement never goes away. TV presenters are these Picasso-like collections of shapes, the cadets improve their charm by drinking tea at a long, empty table, their spacesuits have an enormous oval compartment for their dumptrucks. Everything is twisted and bizarre; feelings which completely define the experience in all the best ways possible.
Such chaos cannot persist for long—something is awry. The honorable quest to explore space and bring glory to your country serves as a mere cover-up to a grand Flaustrian conspiracy! Soon after finishing your first launch, you will find that the country’s Lion emblem is, in fact, a living spirit, and it needs YOUR help! Hop into the cauldron found behind a curtain in your office to reconvene in the interdimensional plane, and let’s talk mechanics for a bit.
Time to be a bit real for a second: Astronaut: The Best did not need to be a roguelite. Its style, humor and writing could easily make it a successful, straightforward adventure with elements of chance. The story is interesting, with fantastic twists and strong moment-to-moment writing heightened by the RNG, but the game hides additional modifiers and items behind a currency typical to the genre.
The true ending requires going through a scenario with multiple attached challenges, and this leads to forcefully revisiting certain scenarios. One of the modifiers in particular stuck out to me as a really easy, but an unfun one. It would replace all text with an archaic version of the language, making it very hard to read. It’s silly at first, but in a game where writing is the primary source of enjoyment, it completely rips that away from the player.
There is little else to attach to when you can’t fully indulge in a little tête-à-tête with the high priests or your bumbling cadets. The minigame associated with sending the latter to training consists of holding the button and letting go whenever you think is adequate. There is not much to grab onto there, everything else is reading and decision making, so you really need that flavorful text to be present at all times.
Astronaut: The Best never works against you too hard with all the random events, so you might not have to use that particular modifier. A few runs in you’ll have the idea of what to expect after each day and how to react to the most dreadful events. Each cadet has five stats associated with the five gods: Piloting, Procedure, Fitness, Charm and Beauty. Training one enables one of the related events to occur at the end of the day, and each is wonderfully ridiculous in its own way.
Astronauts also possess traits, which may be positive or negative, and you will have to either uncover them, or stumble upon them during an activity. Perhaps during the day where the funds for the project are distributed you’ll find that one of your cadets is a beggar, and brings extra money with that. Or maybe a cadet is secretly a vampire and may die due to sun exposure. How I came to learn that last fact, you do not want to know.
The abilities of said cadets are tested day to day, but also during scenario-specific missions, as well as the rocket launches serving as their culmination. There are some really creative scenarios which are a joy to read through and can be approached in multiple ways, and I found myself wanting to come back to check different paths out of my own volition.
Astronaut: The Best really did not need to force me to go back with additional challenges; I already enjoyed the game enough to return to it multiple times. They are a welcome addition to spice things up a bit, but to have to work to get them and to have them be required for the story is a bit of a buzzkill. There’s already some fluff here and there, you can’t exactly skip through the scenario intros or speed up any of the other activities and animations. The music, while fitting the idea of Astronaut: The Best greatly and accompanied by some great sound effects, will get tiring eventually because of that. The game overstayed its welcome a bit when it did not really need to, I would have been happy to revisit it down the line in full without all that anyway.
Astronaut: The Best is not difficult, and I never really failed a launch or got below the second best rating no matter how many modifiers I applied, so it does feel like the focus on those elements is misplaced. But I also never wanted a bigger challenge, I did, however, want to see the different outcomes and events that spawned from the game’s core systems.
Sometimes a decision to have roguelike/roguelite elements in a game that did not need them can be the death of it, but I’m happy to say that this is not the case for Astronaut: The Best. They are, ultimately, the game’s biggest issue, but the heights are far too strong to waver under that weight. It is a consistently engaging, eccentric and impressive 15-hour experience, and one of the most memorable indie titles this year; do not let it slip under your radar among all the great August releases.
Mateusz played Astronaut: The Best on PC with a review code.