When you think about mobile games, the first association are usually the words “cash grab”. It’s easy to see mobile games as something that preys on player’s desire for winning with as little effort as possible. All of us have seen massive advertising campaigns for huge budget mobile games that don’t even require you to play them to win. All you have to do is to push the auto play button and occasionally spend some money on some loot boxes. For the people who prefer to deserve their win with hard work and devotion, this might seem a little demotivational.
What makes things even worse is that the mobile platform is so open for experiments. Making mobile games is not expensive and instead of luring players into an established and already worn out formula, with a little bit of talent and effort developers could make more inexpensive titles built around a single mechanics. Remember Flappy Bird, Wario Ware or Kirby? Games like that. Speaking of Kirby, his creators made this game too.
Part Time UFO starts with a simple premise. You are a small flying saucer and take part-time jobs, using your extendable crane with tongs to pick up items and stack them together within the time limit. Levels are thematic, ranging from a laboratory and a restaurant, to a school and a circus, and there are three challenges you have to meet in order to earn three gold medals. Except for medals, you also earn cash, that can be used to buy helpful items or unlock new levels. Bonus medals can also be earned by achieving certain criteria, such as stacking up the sections of a totem pole in the correct order. You only get some visual clues for each challenge, and it’s not always clear what are you supposed to do. Also, some of the bonuses are pretty infuriating to achieve. Bouncy, cartoonish 2D physics will frequently leave items see-sawing on the brink of collapse, and as each challenge ends, there’s a drum-roll as the game waits to see whether your quick arrangement will remain in place or not. The wait only lasts a couple of seconds, but when you have a horse, two turtles, and a dog all piled up on top of a circus elephant, it can often feel like an eternity.
Gameplay wise, Part Time UFO borrows heavily from claw machines that are so popular in the Far East. You know, the ones where you have to reach down, carefully pick up a furry animal doll from the bunch (or whatever else is piled up inside) and scream in frustration because it fell off the claw a second before you got it. Well, this game isn’t so cheap and frustrating, and buying new outfits can make it a bit easier. Different outfits will give you different bonuses, for example, a hat and a scarf will make your saucer stop faster, and samurai warrior armor will make your claws steady, which is particularly useful if you’re trying to balance a turtle on top of a dog, which is already on top of a horse. Of course, there’s no universal suit that is useful in every level. The suit which was helpful in one situation might become an obstacle in another. For example, the suit that makes your saucer stop more quickly also increases the swing of the arms, turning anything you hold into a wrecking ball with 300kg Miley Cyrus hanging on it. Which makes people swear a lot.
And that brings us to the crucial aspect of this game, which is stopping and momentum. There are two control methods in this game, one which utilizes one hand only and another which needs both hands. Similar to costumes, sometimes it’s needed to switch between control schemes in order to better fit the needs of the level. A big issue with that is the game doesn’t really recognize subtle movements very well, which is very frustrating, but also a problem completely solved with proper costuming.
Part Time UFO may also serve as a critic of the 21st-century gig economy, where workers are asked to constantly shift from one short-term job to another. Pay is distributed depending on how happy the customers are and how quickly you’ve delivered your service – a weird echo of how modern companies work. You also have to spend your own hard-earned wages on outfits – the equivalent of your work uniform. This is an allusion to modern freelancing, and pretty sly at that.
Part Time UFO is a HAL Laboratory classic in the vein of their Kirby. It’s cute, charming, and challenging. It may not set the mobile world on fire, but honestly, it’s the exact type of game we’d love to see more of from the old-school titans of the industry.