Astronaut: The Best Is One Great Pratfall for Mankind
Houston, we have so many problems.
After playing Astronaut: The Best, I understand why kids dream of being an astronaut, but not a single child dreams of being in charge of those astronauts. It's a nightmare. I’ve dealt with astronauts taking their pants off in public, spending the program's money on clothes, and sharing their “weird sex things.” Not to mention that if I can’t pull the program together, the higher-ups will have my head.
Astronaut: The Best, from Universal Happymaker, is an occult management adventure that has you pulling your hair out as you desperately try to convince a nation that its failing space program is worth the money. The plethora of absurd systems in Astronaut: The Best make it one of the funniest games of the year.
Your first goal starts simple enough, train a handful of astronauts to make them presentable on live TV and show off how great the space program is. But Astronaut: The Best immediately starts throwing obstacles in your way, along with equally absurd ways around said obstacles.
The more you train astronauts, the more their ugly secrets pop up, so the game gives you a magic cauldron to wish away some of these less-desirable qualities for a limited time. Astronauts will get up to shenanigans at night, so you have to choose how to respond to the press, even kicking out candidates from the program.
All the while the game’s calendar continues to keep day by day, and the TV appearance grows closer. In my first run, I reached the fated day with three trained astronauts by a miracle, only to have one of my astronauts take the day off because they were too busy having a bad drug trip. I failed my TV appearance and was subsequently executed.
In an alternate universe, my first mission was to prepare my astronauts for a boxing match against our rival nation (think if Alan Shepard squared up against Yuri Gagarin to decide the fate of the Space Race). Yes, we also had a launch to prepare for but priorities had to be picked. The country’s council members all had different takes on which was more important, so I quickly found myself on the bad side of a majority of the council. That surely wouldn’t come back to bite me later... right?
Astronaut: The Best is overflowing with systems to keep track of, and you only have a finite amount of time to accomplish the multitude of tasks being asked of you. Meanwhile, your astronauts are likely messing up everything for you and you have to now also do damage control. It’s like juggling way too many balls, knowing they are going to drop sooner or later, and preparing to choose the one ball you can catch. If this sounds stressful, it starts that way but quickly turns into non-stop comedy when you realize this is a game that is at its best when you are failing miserably.
In the handful of hours I have spent with Astronaut: The Best, I have yet to complete any of my missions successfully. But every time I fail, a new scenario reveals itself, and I get to enjoy it before I fail all over again. It is an ingenious riff on the management genre, which melds smart satire with a delightful game loop that keeps me trying to finally get these astronauts into space.