I step on to the glimmering blue teleporter and beam aboard my Javelin spaceship, a slew of aluminum, carbon and silicon particles in hand. Immediately, some screens on the upper deck start playing an advert for something called Mini-Mall Monkeys. I scramble up the stairs and stare dumbfounded as the booming voiceover explains how anyone can make tiny humans by "adding sub-zero radioactive water to a microlife power packet mix." The clip, performed by real actors in brightly colored outfits, is shot like a toy commercial from the 1990s.
"Watch them stroll, shop and live as they autonomously move throughout their very own shopping complex, completely unaware of your presence," the voiceover exclaims. "Engage in a fascinating examination of standard Earth activity, or declare a Black Friday and send your shoppers into violent bargain-hunting frenzy where only the strong survive!"
All of Journey to the Savage Planet is like this. The space exploration game you can play solo or with a friend online is simultaneously relaxing and silly. Alex Hutchinson, the co-founder of developer Typhoon Studios, calls the adventure a satire. "But it's an earnest satire," he stressed.
The humor permeates the entire experience. Take the opening five minutes, which includes a training video by "the fourth-best interstellar exploration company," Kindred Aerospace. Martin Tweed, the firm's eccentric CEO, explains that your mission is to explore planet AR-Y 26, document its flora and fauna and decide if it's suitable for human habitation. The production values are laughably bad -- the font choices are outdated, the visual effects are awful and every scene is clearly shot in front of a green screen -- to highlight the firm's general incompetence.
"I should also mention that while every effort has been made to ensure a comfortable and safe journey, recent budget challenges, plus the unknown nature of the obstacles you'll be facing, mean that we were unable to send you anything in the way of equipment," Tweed explains jubilantly. Luckily, there's a 3D printer on the Javelin that can turn space junk into useful gear.
You can head back out and retrieve your loot, which sometimes includes the option to "shamefully" bury your mangled corpse.
Once you've watched this opening skit, you're free to step outside and start exploring. The first cave has some spherical Pufferbirds that you can slap or kick like an NFL player trying to score a field goal. Hit the feathered creatures with enough force and they'll explode into a pile of green goop that resembles the slime (in the UK, we called this "gunge") used on countless Nickelodeon shows in the late 1980s and early '90s.
Keep roaming and something will inevitably kill you -- a mistimed jump into a chasm, perhaps, or a tangle with a nasty Pikemander -- and you'll be 'reprinted' back on the Javelin. Your bodiless companion, a smarty-pants AI called E.K.O, will then crack a joke like: "Just remember that you did your best. It wasn't very good, but you did your best."