Q-Games' PixelJunk series has always had its own quirky style, and while the developer's experiments may not have always hit the mark, they've at worst been worth a look. With the company's latest game Nom Nom Galaxy landing on PlayStation 4 – after hitting Steam Early Access last year – it's time to find out what the chefs in Kyoto have cooked up with their take on the sandbox genre.
As a new Astroworker for SoupCo, you'll be helping the company corner the galaxy's soup market by keeping ravenous aliens supplied with a steady supply of delicious broth. Like the soup that you'll be producing, the game has a number of ingredients thrown into the mix that make for a tasty experience. Starting with a sandbox stock, the firm's added a dollop of base building, a dash of resource management, a smidgen of tower defence, and finally topped it off with a generous seasoning of both online and offline co-op.
The main mode that'll introduce you to the game's mechanics is 'corporate conquest' which sees your Astroworker sent to a variety of worlds to gather ingredients, make soup, and blast it into space to your waiting customers. Each planet that you arrive on is presented as a side-on cross-section, and you'll guide your Astroworker across some marvellously rendered 2D cartoon landscapes, burrowing into the ground to collect blue matter and ingredients that you'll use to build your base or make soup respectively.
To begin with, you'll have a limited number of structures that you can build, but even with this relatively modest selection, actually getting to grips with what works and what doesn't from a layout perspective takes a little time. Despite a couple of tutorial levels – which feel more like information dumps than teaching tools – you'll need to try and fail a couple of times to get to grips with certain gameplay nuances. While this is slightly annoying in the early stages of your time with the game, when you do finally get it all right and the soup is blasting off your launch-pads in quick succession, you'll get that warm fuzzy feeling from having made something of your own design.
The sense of accomplishment when you build a smooth running facility gets even stronger as you unlock more and more toys to use, and whereas in the early stages you'll have been harvesting and delivering all of the ingredients to your soup machines personally, you'll start to introduce robots and conveyor belts to take a lot of the menial tasks out of your hands. That said, you can't rest on your laurels too much as you'll need to make sure that there's a steady flow of the right ingredients, while at the same time ramping up production so that you can deliver the soup to market faster than your competitors. This is both fun and stressful, as you'll find yourself spinning more and more plates to try and keep your production line from stopping – especially once ingredients get harder to reach, and your opponent starts shipping their soup at a much faster rate.
As you gather more and more market share, your business rivals won't take too kindly to you stealing their slice of the soup pie, and they'll do anything that they can to stop you from cornering the market. Consequently, you'll have to repel occasional attacks from their minions as they aim to destroy or, at the very least, disrupt your production plant.
Fortunately, there are a few defensive options in your bag of tricks that you can use to protect your base from these assaults. However, even with a few strategically placed sentry turrets, there'll be weak links that the invaders will worm their way through, so more often than not you'll have to get your hands dirty fighting them off yourself. In addition to using your Astroworker's modest fighting moves to give them a wallop, you can also find the odd weapon hidden around the world, or if all else fails, break out your buzz saw and cut them down to size.
While these skirmishes certainly keep you on your toes – and can really throw a spanner into your well planned works – they're by far the weakest part of the gameplay. There just isn't anything gratifying or impactful about any of the combat, and whether you're defending your base or trying to pacify some of the more aggressive ingredients for your soup, it all feels like a chore, only succeeding in making you itch to get back to selling your concoctions.
Thankfully, once you've completed any of the conquest stages, you can replay them either from scratch or with your constructed facility fully intact via the S.O.O.P Simulator, which has all the fun of blasting broth into space without any pesky rivals trying to sabotage your efforts. Adding to the longevity of the game further are 'galactic challenges' which refresh every few days, and let you compete asynchronously with other players in a variety of events ranging from races to sales challenges.
While only the odd challenge allows for co-op play, all of the campaign stages can be played either in local two player split screen or online with up to three other people. Adding additional workers to the mix – as frequently tends to be the case – elevates your enjoyment, allowing you to divide your collective efforts, with each member of your crew focusing on a particular area of your joint venture. Communication proves the key to success in these co-operative sessions, and while there'll be times when things don't quite go according to plan, when it does actually come together, the sort of satisfaction that you felt in your solo escapades will be amplified tenfold.
Nom Nom Galaxy has an odd premise that's been blended into a surprisingly interesting sandbox experience. While some of the gameplay ingredients don't necessarily work that well together – with the combat in particular leaving a bitter aftertaste – you'll at least be able to cleanse your palate with another draft of its fun base building and resource management, and that'll keep you coming back for more servings.