Deep Dive: Space Miner
The basic premise of the game sees you joining your eccentric uncle’s space mining company to help bail him out after a couple of bad business decisions leave him indebted to a big corporation looking to take over his fields. You’ve only got the bare minimum mining license, restricting the areas in which you can work. Even worse, your only ship is a hunk of junk that can just barely do the job. All you can really do is head out and mine the fields.
The cash you earn can be spent on upgrades for your ship, while doing the work itself gives you credit towards the next rank on your license. You’ll also find beacons out in the field that will point to new sectors to mine, and wrecked ships that can be salvaged for parts. As you increase the rank of your license and open new areas, the story will progress, sometimes presenting special encounters like boss fights and rescue missions.
Mining is a simple process. You just point your guns at some asteroids and blow them up. Some will release ore while others will simply disappear. Big asteroids will break up into smaller ones, which can then be destroyed to collect the ore within. A handy grabber device will snake out of your ship to collect nearby materials, but it’s generally a little bit slower than your thruster speed, so you’ll have to slow down to let it do its work. Once your hold is full or the field is empty, it’s time to head back home to cash in your ore and spend your earnings on upgrades for your ship.
Just when you get used to that rhythm, the big corporation will start sending their mining bots out on the field to compete with you for ore. Luckily, you can destroy them (and they’ll even sometimes leave spare parts behind that you can sell!) Every once in a while, a timer or a specific goal will need to be dealt with, but most of the game is tied up in the simple yet engaging process of going out, blasting some stuff in the fields, filling up your hold, and heading home.
It’s a satisfying enough process on its own, but holding it all together is the ability to upgrade your ship, part by part. You spend most of the game never quite having enough cash to buy everything you may want at any given moment, but every part is useful in some way and has a noticeable effect on your ship. You have to decide how to prioritize the enhancements in the way that you feel it benefits you most based on your play style. If players had enough money to buy everything, then buying upgrades really wouldn’t be very interesting and every player would end up with the same ship specs. In Space Miner, each person’s ship will likely be slightly different until the very end.
No matter which upgrades you buy, your ship always feels good to fly around in. You can toggle your guns on and off at the tap of a button, leaving you free to focus on navigation. How well it handles depends on which upgrades you’ve selected, but it always has a nice bit of weight to it that makes it feel like you’re really steering a ship. The catcher beam is a pretty clever addition, because it forces the player to slow down or make some interesting turns at times to allow it to do its work. There’s a bit of technique to mastering the controls, making for a rewarding learning process. By the time you’ve reached the first real test of your maneuvering skills, you should be well-trained enough in the game’s mechanics to keep out of harm’s way.
Space Miner also has a cute, funny story connecting everything together. Its relatively unobtrusive, only coming up after you’ve cleared certain milestones, so you dont have to worry about having to sift through too much dialogue. When it does pop up it’s usually pretty quick about its business, and it does a great job of riding the line of being funny without being farcical. Its tone is similar to a Saturday morning cartoon from the late 1980s. The lighthearted attempts to break up the routine now and then can be quite welcome, especially when they provide some context for a special mission of some sort.
That perhaps points to what makes Space Miner such a great game: it has outstanding pacing. The action comes in small, enjoyable bursts, alternating between a core routine and occasional special missions that force you to change up your strategy. You’re almost always just around the corner from a new upgrade, which gives you a powerful incentive to go out and collect more ore. The game keeps track of which stages you’ve fully cleared and gives you a clear signal when it’s done. Many players will surely want to hang around until they’ve finished everything in each area.
Your goals are always clear and your progress on completing them is communicated directly. The story holds it all together without being overbearing, and the way the upgrades and even the overall map itself unfolds gives players just the right amount of agency without overwhelming them with too many choices. If it’s the little things that count, Space Miner is a shining example of how paying attention to those details can result in an incredibly appealing game.
Space Miner is a powerful testament to the idea that a game can be designed for a pick-up-and-play mobile experience without sacrificing depth and long-term enjoyment for those who like to settle in for a few hours. And if you start playing Space Miner, you’d best be prepared to lose a few hours. You really can’t stop playing until you finish off one more sector, buy one more part, get one more next rank on your license, and… well, you get the picture. That’s just how it goes in the old space mining business.