Space Tail: Every Journey Leads Home
On November 2022, 2022, Space Tail was released on Steam as an interstellar adventure with a lovable canine as the protagonist of this journey. Today, Space Tail launches for the first time on consoles and we were given an Xbox Series X code courtesy of the devs and publishers themselves.
Based on real events of sending animals to space long before humans made contact with the stars, Space Tail centers around a puppy named Bea. Okay, so she’s a full adult, but all doggos are puppers. Dogs are cool, alright? But then again, so are cats. Last year I fawned over Stray and how despite the protagonist being a nameless stray cat, the protagonist had as much personality if not more than a human one. Effectively, Space Tail gives one of the predecessors for human space travel a "what if?" scenario; if she survived her flight and did find foreign planets unknown to man.
This is what brought me to my enjoyment of Space Tail. Like Stray, Bea is just an average domestic animal that can jump and use her senses to her advantage. Space Tail is a platformer that is non-combative and instead allows the player to use their animal instincts to survive along their space journey. Aside from jumping and crouching, Bea can use her three senses–-smell, hearing, and sight, to discern danger from non-harmful environments.
Poisonous mushrooms that emit foul odor can be detected by a reddish hue in Bea’s scent, signaling the player to avoid it. Likewise, players who are lost in knowing where to go next may follow Bea’s scent trail, as her inquisitive mind can determine a possible place of interest. The reliance on a character’s senses reminded me of Blind Faith Edo no Yami and how the protagonist needed to use his other senses to identify enemies outside of his blindness.
While that was an example of a Metroidvania, Space Tail is more of a chilled environment similar to the Ori games. The player must use the environment as well as their own wits to their advantage, especially in foreign planets where the inhabitants are untrusting to Bea. Bea can “communicate” with each planet’s citizens through the use of emotes. Barking, howling, jumping, rolling, and raising her paw is among several actions she can choose from. However, each NPC reacts differently to what Bea does, and what one action leads to a favorable outcome may become a hostile situation for another.
Fortunately, any negative reaction can be reset after a few seconds, but in some puzzles, Bea may actually need an act of violence. At the beginning of the game, there’s an impassable barrier of noxious mushrooms that are connected via an orange sac. Bea needs something sharp to slice open the sac, thus cutting off the fumes and making it safe to pass through. Nearby, there’s someone wielding a spear where if Bea angers them, they hurl the spear at Bea. Bea can retrieve this spear, thus fulfilling the objective above.
Eventually, Bea will have the ability to jump across wider gaps as well as use telekinesis to move large objects. Before this, Bea can push smaller objects to destroy hostile robots who will shoot at her on sight. Each level has hidden gallery notes, offering more insight into the lore of Space Tail, including Bea and the planet she visits. While there isn’t any English-speaking dialogue, aside from the few human characters in the game, there’s a narrator who attempts to convey the story to the audience.
There isn’t much in the way of combat other than killer robots led by a rogue AI, but at this point, I was reminded of Hoa, a similar non-combative platformer with rogue robots as enemies with a deeper message about nature and the environment. Space Tail’s difficulty is incredibly lenient, giving the players all the necessary tools to solve a puzzle and rewarding them for going the extra mile. With Bea’s scent, the player will always know the right direction to go at all times. Inquisitive players who wish to stray off the beaten path would be rewarded in turn.
The game plus its epilogue DLC, Homecoming, adds to roughly a full afternoon’s worth of gameplay without a break. I’m not fond of the term “casual game,” but for those who wish to play “family-friendly” games, Space Tail is the perfect hidden gem. There were times when I’d glitch and get stuck in a random environment or even times when I felt the dialogue was rather cheesy. I felt like it added to the charm and I never felt alone even in worlds where Bea is initially alone. Space Tail is a worthy pick-up for fans of Ori and other “chill-like” platformers, with now multiple platforms to choose from.
Space Tail is available on PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Nintendo Switch.