Game: Ticket to Earth
Developer: Robot Circus
Publisher: Robot Circus
For a casual, spacebound strategy game, Ticket to Earth does a lot of things right. Robot Circus’ inventive fusion of turn-based RPG and tile-matching feels so natural it’s a real wonder I’ve never seen it before. The sci-fi themed comic stills add another layer to the already strong mix, packing in a blazing fast script that prefaces a challenging adventure.
You play as Rose, a gardener-turned reluctant melee-fighting pest removalist mercenary who’s on a mission to rid Land’s End of evil. In this version of the universe, humans live in a crazy post-Earth reality where robots and most humanoids have been infected by a virus, mutated creatures run rampant, and a corrupt government falsely assures the masses that all is well.
As hinted earlier, Ticket to Earth‘s story is delivered in fast, text-decorated panels, so it can be hard to get really stuck into it if you’re not paying attention. That won’t impede your enjoyment, however, since the gameplay is instantly gratifying: impressive flashes and light FX, Chess-like grid dancing, and a crystal clear HUD and tutorial unite to make Ticket to Earth one of the best realised gateways to full-on strategy. In other words, anyone can play.
Once you power through the first few levels, blasting nitrium roaches and laser bots gets incredibly addictive; the victory screen will flood your senses with triumph, especially so if you manage to tick off those extra objectives. The colour-restricted movement patterns reminded me of the specific roles played by different Chess pieces, but in stark contrast to the beloved board game, Ticket to Earth‘s tiles split into orange (hand), green (mind), purple (eye) and pink (heart) powers which charge a special ability (combat power) for added damage. Navigating Rose across the squares gains attack points that determine your power for the given round; interestingly, and sometimes infuriatingly, enemies can lower it as well as your health, rendering you useless.
As you might have guessed, all four tiles are randomly arranged, pushing you to suss out the best, most effective path forward. In a two-turn setup where attacking consumes one slot, each move is vital, especially since there’s no undo button—one of my biggest gripes with Ticket to Earth. This is a fantastic way to inject meaningful strategy into the game, but if you make an error, or spot a better route after you’ve executed a move, there’s no going back. I would have appreciated such a feature in the event of accidents or poor planning, particularly later on when the challenge level skyrockets into unfair territory.
What starts as a smooth difficulty curve becomes erratic and unbalanced. This was more evident in the defeat four enemies in six rounds modes compared to survival and less stringent elimination types; many times, I felt enemies were overpowered, blocked any means of escape, and quickly incinerated any hopes of emerging victorious let alone fulfilling the optional objectives. This is why collecting tokens, those shiny, gold-coloured coins help upgrade your original attacks, as well as your primitive hedge-trimming weapon, but they won’t do enough on their own.
Talent tokens, similar-looking discs are almost mandatory since they give you all kinds of perks like auto-healing (only on heart tiles), HP and vitality boosts, and much more, which can make a massive difference in the outcome of a match. Every time you traverse eight or more tiles, you flip over a Justice Token; collect enough to fuel your justice ability and it becomes a figurative get out of jail free card, eviscerating all enemies on the grid at the touch of a click. It’s difficult to activate, but that’s what makes it precious and so rewarding to use.
Speaking of rewards, losing any match withdraws any tokens you’ve earned and essentially erasing hard-earned progress. A ‘flee’ option, wherein players can keep their tokens to unlock more powerful weapons and abilities after some grinding would enhance Ticket to Earth‘s gameplay on the whole, giving more purpose to the main quest and justice missions, side quests which also impact from the unbalanced difficulty later on. Persistence does pay off, but there needs to be slightly more leeway so you’re not massively reliant on upgrading abilities just to make any substantial progress.
Overall, Ticket to Earth is a fresh, fun debut from Robot Circus, and I recommend it to anyone looking for a different kind of RPG hybrid. Strategy lite, turn-based tactical assault blends really well with upgrade mechanics, and the structural design of the battle grids is flecking admirable. Ironing out the challenge level in latter sections of the story would prevent gameplay from becoming too unbalanced, but there’s little else I can fault.
Full Disclosure: A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for purposes of this review.