Sawbuck Gamer


Box Populi

rymdkapsel asks you to inject humanity into basic shapes.

By Derrick Sanskrit • August 19, 2013

Sawbuck Gamer is our daily review of a free or cheap game ($10 or less).

Developer: grapefrukt games
Platforms: Android, iPhone/iPad (Universal), PlayStation Mobile
Reviewed on: iPad
Price: Android, iPhone/iPad—$4, PlayStation Mobile—$5

Scott McCloud wrote in Understanding Comics that “by stripping down an image to its essential ‘meaning,’ an artist can amplify that meaning in a way that realistic art can’t.” Abstraction allows the audience to project anything into the empty spaces, filling in the blanks and creating personal connections. rymdkapsel is a spacestation management game that tests McCloud’s theory by reducing everything down to beautiful, simple geometry. Resources are pink squares and blue cubes, and your crew are tiny white rectangles. That’s all the detail there is, and it’s all there needs to be.

The game starts out serene, with a pleasant quiet and vast emptiness. You gather some pink stuff and some blue stuff to expand your spacestation, and tension mounts as its layout grows more complex and enemy attacks become more dangerous. Success lies in finding a comfortable balance between the explorer’s innate sense of manifest destiny—of gathering resources and examining mysterious obelisks—and practical sustainability—keeping your crew alive against increasing opposition.

McCloud continues in Understanding Comics by saying that just as the complex reduces to the simple and the realistic to the iconic, so too does the specific reduce to the universal. rymdkapsel’s flying red streaks of death lack definition, making them any nightmare the player can imagine. When they struck down a member of my crew, I felt it more deeply than I would have if it were just another muscle-bound soldier on a murky battlefield. That rectangle may have been a mother, an inmate imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, or a hyper-intelligent pomeranian in a spider-like exoskeleton. I’ve been with them from the beginning, seen them struggle and succeed, and nobody will ever know them like I did.

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4 Responses to “Box Populi”

  1. Ack_Ack says:

    I’ve tried to play this game a few times – based on some great reviews that I’ve read, I picked this up last week.  I’ve spent about half an hour on it, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out what the hell is going on.  This is the first I’ve heard about being attacked by enemies – I always thought it was a resource-based game.

    Has anyone found this playable on an iPhone?  Or is it something suited more for a tablet?

  2. This game is very lovely but people should be warned, there’s effectively only one mission.  Or three ‘quests’ that all play more or less the same with different levels of challenge on the same map.  If you’re paying attention and play smart you’ll exhaust the game within an hour or two.

  3. Devon Mallory says:

    I lost about two hours without realizing it the day I picked it up. Love it. @Ack_Ack:disqus : once you’ve completed a few of the initial objectives, the enemies start arriving in waves. Played on iPhone.