Welcome to Susan Arendt's latest column on Pocket Gamer. In 2018 we've recruited the best writers and most experienced gamers in the industry and asked them to inspire us. Today Susan gets to grips with Part Time UFO, and has a falling out with a cheerleader...
If you've been reading this column for any time at all, first of all, thank you, but secondly, you've likely noticed that I don't normally gravitate towards mobile games that use joystick-style controls.
It's not that I'm morally opposed to them, it's just that they don't often work all that well. They're either located in a way that means my thumb ends up covering up too much of the screen, or they aren't responsive, or both.
That's true in Part-Time UFO too, but in that game, it's also kind of the point.
In case you didn't know, those crane games full of crappy plush toys and one really righteous prize are called "UFO" games outside the US. Part-Time UFO is a fun play on that nomenclature, using crane-style controls to guide an actual alien spacecraft.
He's stuck on Earth, y'see, and he needs something to do, so he goes in search of gainful employment, like any productive lil' UFO would. He can't do much other than move back and forth and pick stuff up with his claw, but that's enough to get him part-time gigs doing things like restoring artwork, making salad, and...stacking cheerleaders.
If you've ever played a crane game, you know how to move the UFO. His claw isn’t rigged to make sure you drop everything, but he's just as wobbly as that quarter-eater in the pizza shop, which makes moving things with any kind of meaningful precision almost impossible.
You don't so much drop the things you carry as you fling them with intent. But that wonkiness is where the fun comes from. If the UFO - let's call him Petey - worked all that well, the game wouldn’t be much of a challenge.
And normally, you'd see that he wasn't all that good at what he was trying to do and you'd just bail, but he's just so darn plucky that you can't help but want the little guy to succeed.
So you man that joystick and deal with his flailing claw arm and you do your absolute best to make that pyramid of cheerleaders as perfect as it can possibly be. Sorry about that, Tiffany, I didn't mean to drop you on your head like that, but you're still in the target zone, so I'm just gonna call it good, ok?
Beyond the enjoyment of wrestling with bad crane controls are the secret medals waiting to be earned at every job site. You get one medal for simply completing the assigned task, but there are two other mystery conditions you can meet to earn a couple of others. You're given a visual clue as to what they are, but you'll have to figure them out on your own.
Perhaps you need to catch certain different kinds of fish, or put all the oranges together in a single crate, or find the thief hiding in the museum. You only have a minute or two to complete the main job of each level, however, and Petey's chaotic maneuvers can make that difficult enough without you adding extra objectives into the mix, but you can replay levels as often as you like.
Part-Time UFO is savvy enough to understand that dealing with a crappy crane game control scheme isn't enjoyable over an extended period, so its levels are bite-sized pieces of silliness. Get in, get out, come back later and help Petey buy a new hat. What, you didn't think he wasn't getting paid for his efforts, did you?
Most of the hats are just cosmetic (my personal favorite, naturally, being the puppy who rides around on his head) but some will make him slightly easier to control... but only slightly.
Nothing about Part-Time UFO is meant to be taken all that seriously; it's just a doofy little break in your day. Make sure you play with the sound on, by the way, because that theme song will put a smile on your face no matter what.
Read more of Susan Arendt's columns on Pocket Gamer, and find out more about Part Time UFO at the game's official site. If you're looking for more columns, then check out Harry Slater and Jon Jordan, who are always on-hand with sharp, tasty opinions.