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Part Time UFO review - An arcade delight from the house of Kirby

For: iPhone
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Nintendo's second-party friends make a mobile gem

Product: Part Time UFO | Publisher: HAL Egg | Format: iPhone | Players: 1 | Version: Europe
HAL Laboratory gave Nintendo Kirby, Super Smash Bros, and even a CEO in the sorely missed Satoru Iwata. Now it's given Nintendo a handy lesson in how to make mobile games.

That might sound like a strange thing to say given how enjoyable Nintendo's early smartphone efforts have been. But while Super Mario Run and Fire Emblem Heroes are essentially reductions of much bigger ideas, Part Time UFO is a wonderfully self-contained box of delights.

This is intuitive, tactile mobile gaming at its most uplifting, and it's the best game of its sort I've played since Ridiculous Fishing.

Take me to your foreman

You play a downed UFO who's been forced to pay their way on a cartoon planet Earth. The only tools at your disposal are a casual disregard for gravity and a giant grabber claw that can by deployed from your craft's underbelly.

There's a virtual control stick on the left side of the screen for moving around each compact level, while pressing the right side of the screen sends out that grabber.

If said open claw makes contact with an object, it'll close and retract. Pressing again releases the grabber's hold and drops the object.

Thus begins a series of increasingly bizarre menial labour tasks, and along with it the process of falling in love with a mobile game.

Odd job man

Though you start off helping an orange farmer to heft his produce into the back of a pickup truck, Part Time UFO soon has you doing more exotic jobs.

You might find yourself putting together a broken museum artefact, playing a futuristic game of Tetris, or helping a team of cheerleaders to build a human pyramid.

In each case, the game's sensitive (but not too sensitive) physics give the game all the precarious, tactile thrill of the arcade toy that inspired it. Even more so, given that Part Time UFO is rigged to give you optimal pleasure rather than bleed you dry.

Yep, this is a premium game with absolutely no IAPs. Joy!

Who's in charge of this outfit?

You'll wind up earning plenty of in-game cash without any monotonous grinding, and that money needs to be spent.

In Part Time UFO that entails buying new outfits, each of which improves your little flying saucer in a very specific way. The stuffed dog will make you faster, for example, while the martial arts outfit reduces sway.

The brilliance of this system is that you won't find a single outfit that suits every situation. Different attributes come in handy depending on the task, and some outfits are explicitly geared towards a particular scenario.

Adding further flavour is the three medals that you can win per job. There's no explicit description of what you need to do to meet these criteria, just a thumbnail clue, which adds a note of exploration to the manual work.

He'd like to come and meet us, but he thinks he'd blow our minds

I'm a little ashamed that we've got this far into the review without more than a cursory mention of Part Time UFO's biggest attribute - its charm.

The game leaks personality from every pixel-art pore. Its 2D graphics are incredibly simple but brilliantly inventive and artfully drawn. Its style and tone reminded me a little of Nintendo's Rhythm Heaven, which is praise in itself.

Accompanying these retro visuals is a main ditty that will follow you into your dreams, and quite possibly old age. HAL has provided just a single joyous ear-worm, but it then proceeds to remix the tune for each stage.

Problems? Sure, there are a few. There are only 27 levels and even fewer settings, there's no proper iPhone X support, and there's no iCloud save facility.

Now that I've got that out of the way, I can return to making a house out of balancing monkeys, tugging a reluctant sea urchin from the sea bed, and making the perfect salad for a snooty chef. You really should join me.
Part Time UFO review - An arcade delight from the house of Kirby
Reviewer photo
Jon Mundy | 2 March 2018
Part Time UFO is a wonderfully intuitive, unapologetically mobile arcade game that's guaranteed to brighten up any day
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