Captain Forever was/is is a 2009 shooty spaceship game from delightful indie dev Farbs, in which you upgrade your ship not from trad. pickups, but by cannibalising anything that’s left after you pew-pew an enemy to death. Ships are modular, so you can build unlikely-to-the-point-of-absurdity craft, just so long as you bear in mind basic physics and make sure you equip thrusters and guns in somewhat thoughtful places, unless of course you want it to stubbornly spin in circles or helplessly spray bullets into its own tailpipe.
A great idea, and well ahead of the whole ‘no two playthroughs are the same’ mentality that grips the ever-expanding roguelite world today. But…. it was pretty spartan. Hence, a remix. An extremely pretty remix, which includes Ren & Stimpy-esque big, grotesque characters in addition to hand-drawn galaxies and more tangibly block-like spaceship parts. It’s doodles on an exercise book come to beautiful life.
It’s all framed within a battle of wills between arguing siblings too – Captain Forever is an exasperated sister trying to prick her disgusting brother/evil galactic overlord’s pomp. The verbal sparring between them, while perhaps a little repetitive, adds so much to Captain Forever Remix. It might be a dry grind for parts and unlocks otherwise, but instead it’s like being sucked into the half-combative, half-affectionate roleplay of suburban siblings bored out of their minds in the umpteenth week of school holiday.
Somehow, their childish psychological warfare carries so much more import than Ian Space Marine Saves The Universe Again. Or perhaps it’s as simple as my wanting to wipe the smirk off that zitty little shmuck’s face.
I don’t think I ever will. Despite the cheerful, animation-like presentation and evocation of childhood innocence, CFR’s tough as old nails. Just as you can shoot the blocks right off enemies, they can do the same to you – which usually entails carving off all your guns at speed, leaving you totally unable to defend yourself as they target the central block which, if destroyed, means game over. The central dilemma in CFR is that, the more guns and blocks and thrusters you add to your ship, both the more unwieldy it is and the more the enemy has to target.
It’s important to find a sweet spot, to make something manouvreable and that also can target specific parts of enemy ships rather than just spray the whole thing with twenty different guns, otherwise you’ll just destroy all their weapons and have nothing left to harvest afterwards. In other words, despite appearances this is hugely tactical.
My inclination has been to a bit of a blunt instrument which means progress has been slow, and I’m having to fight my urge to just build a colossal bank of deathrays then charge right into any and everything. This does not work, as spectacular as it might look, I can assure you.
To do well with CFR, you’ll need to embrace it physics, know exactly how your craft moves and be sure that you’re well aware of the effect any additions to it have. You also need to make sure that weapons are essentially covered by other weapons, and not just face everything forwards and hope for the best. However, grabbing new parts becomes tougher and tougher, as new enemies arrive more quickly on the scene in later stages, so you might very well end up losing three weapons while trying to equip a fourth. Choose your moments, basically. You also need to learn finer details of movement, combat and construction on the job, as it purposefully explains very little.
Even if the perma-death campaign, which requires reaching specific stages with specific starting builds in order to unlock new designs, throws up quite a few roadblocks for the helpless laser-spammer, the good news is that a sandbox mode offers far more freedom to dick around.
Additionally, any ship you create in the campaign – even if it’s just one block different from the last – is made available in sandbox, so you get to revisit any builds you were fond of and tinker with them whenever you like. The downside of this is that it tracks every change, so you can end up browsing through page after page of designs you don’t want to find the one that you did. You can also download others’ favourite builds from the Steam Workshop, which is also a particularly good way of discovering quite how short-sighted one’s own imagination or grasp of basic physics is.
It’s a lovely thing, is Captain Forever, full of gentle tactical cleverness and aesthetic wildness. I somewhat lament that it doesn’t let you go quite as crazy with stupidly overpowered ships as the appearance suggests it would, but hey, they had to put some kind of challenge in there, as an infinitely expanding power trip would have gotten old fast. The campaign can feel like a bit of a grind because of iths, but then again I really don’t believe that it’s been designed to be played doggedly for hours at a time. It’s best enjoyed as a precious hour of bright, brash space fantasy/Lego crate come to life to scratch imaginative itches here and there.
Captain Forever Remix is out now for Windows, Mac and Linux.