PlunderNauts: boldly going to infinity and beyond

My most recent obsession is a mobile game titled PlunderNauts, it features combat akin to naval battles, however, with the twist of being themed as a sci-fi  pirate mashup.  Its deep customization and fun loot, a la Borderlands, makes each battle a hunt for the next item that will help define the player’s playstyle.

Fun take on Science Fiction

Pirate influenced space tech: Although the concept of space pirates isn’t new, PlunderNauts does an excellent job of balancing the representation of naval warfare in the ship and turret designs, while still infusing them with a futuristic / high tech feel.

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A robotic parrot accompanies you on your voyages and helps to shape the narrative

Bright colors and beautiful effects: Particle effects from each explosion, thruster boost, and energy shield are beautifully rendered in cell-shaded graphics.

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My ship sails across the victory screen with shields up
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After taking substantial damage, I finish the fight before taking another hard hit

Pirate Pride: The story drives the player to conquer each sector of space to be the best pirate in all the galaxy. Since the core of the gameplay revolves around combat the player is always engaged in the idea of finding the right combination of ship and tech to win the next planet.

Unique Naval / Space Combat

Naval Navigation: Players navigate in vectors, with responsive gestures to indicate ship direction and route, guiding their ship along paths to line up their cannons with the enemy, this harkens back to ancient naval tactics which include; sailing through, sailing around, and even broadsiding.

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Using the line draw navigation mechanics, I plot a course, keeping the enemy ship at a safe distance, while my fighters and bombers deal some major damage

Planets: As the player takes control of a planet they gain access to the resources it generates over time, which serves as the main source of persistent income for the player.

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After capturing the planets in the Bat System I return later to retrieve the gold from each planet I control

Obstacles: As the player progresses they encounter different types of obstacles and traps which impact how they approach combat in each sector including; asteroids, space ice, turrets, solid barriers, laser barriers, and mines.

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Other obstacles such as barriers cannot be destroyed and absorb turret fire

Bosses: Once the player has made their way through a sector they encounter bosses which represent new types of tech or battle tactics which the player can learn from and incorporate into their own playstyle.

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Facing a swift boss, I keep my distance and remain outside of the barrier arena, taking shots from afar

Replay Battles: When the player returns to their game some of the planets they have conquered will go back into contention and this serves as a clever way of allowing the player to continue playing if they get stuck, and also gives the player a sense of growth when returning to best a foe which had previously been a challenge to them and their tech / ship.

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Replaying a battle on an old planet my upgraded fighters quickly take down the enemy fighters and starships

Deep upgrade and customization systems

Turrets: Turrets are the primary source of the player’s damage output, and come in a variety of styles, fire rates, damage, and ranges.  Each have strengths and weaknesses which help to provide the player an identity through the play style they choose.  Long range beam weapons are great for players with slow moving ships who are patient enough to play out the battle from a distance, whereas blasters are great for a hit and run play style with a fast ship.

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An epic beam turret with unique characteristics 

Tech Mods: Including both offensive and defensive abilities and modifiers, tech mods help to bolster the play style of the ship; adding armor to a ship with a lot of life helps to make it a juggernaut, adding two repair kits helps to make the ship more survivable and helps to counteract the mistake of engaging a tough enemy when playing with a fast and light ship.

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An uncommon techmodule 

Fighters: Fighters serve as small attack vessels which will actively seek to attack the enemy ship with either laser attacks (fighters) or bombs (bombers), with full squadrons attacking the enemy it’s easy to get in several close quarters attacks with your turrets while they try to fight off the fighters that swarm around them.

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A rare fighter which trades a larger squadron size for faster speed and a single ship
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Relying on hit and run tactics I attack the enemy as I fly away from the fight, just as my fighters make their next attack run
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Seeing that the enemy did not like approaching my fighters I fly within their swarm like a school of fish to protect myself and force him to incur the wrath of my squadrons

 

 

Ship Types: Ships come equipped with different load out options which create hardline restrictions on how they can be played, a carrier with 4 fighter bays and 1 turret must focus on being defensive, and being stocked with high damage / health fighters.  Whereas a battleship with 4 turrets, featuring higher health, slower speeds, and no fighter bays, must rely on high damage turrets and efficient maneuvers to line up its shots.

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Although faster ships are high risk high reward in combat, I prefer carriers and battlecruisers who attack from afar and can sustain a lot of damage

Crew: The crew are characters which grant the ship special abilities or characteristics. While they essentially accomplish the same thing as tech mods, crew members provide character to the player’s ship, and round out the experience of being a starship captain.

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Initial crew member which increases maneuvering speed, allowing the player the ability to get out of a pinch

Materials: As the player wins battles they acquire loot, often in the form of raw materials, these materials can be sold for a quick gold infusion, or forged together to create all equitable items in the game from turrets, to tech modes, to fighters. Players who feel satisfied with their gear can still forge materials together to create higher rarity items which can sell for a lot of gold.

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A common crafting material

Forge: The forge is the shining achievement of customization in PlunderNauts, by using the forge to put materials together and create something new, the player is constantly delighted with the process of creation.  The player can forge materials into equitable items with varying rarity and special capabilities, and as the player requires items of greater strength they can begin to forge those items together, 3 turrets to make an even more powerful and rare turret.  The most impressive part is that as the player faces a challenge which requires their ship itself to grow, the player can throw their ship into the forge for an upgrade, coloring it with stronger stats, and rare abilities / attributes.

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The forge with a starship, blueprints, and scrap metal, upgraded and ready to claim

Within a sea of cartoony fantasy and hyperrealistic, gritty games, PlunderNauts has taken a established genre such as sci-fi and added a unique spin with an art style which feels fresh and entertaining. It looks and plays like no other game on the market, and provides players with a one of a kind gameplay experience. I highly recommend this game for players who enjoy the loot hunting of Borderlands and are looking for a fun realtime combat game.

Do you feel that the sci-fi genre has a good representation of games on the market? Have you played any games recently which really surprised you with unique gameplay elements or art style, if so which ones? I welcome discussion on this topic and if you have experiences of your own you wish to share please do so in the comments below, or write in to playprofessor@gmail.com.

Andrew Mantilla is a ludologist and video game journalist for Play Professor.  You can check out more of his content on FacebookTwitterInstagramand Youtube.

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