Computer users of all ages most likely have a soft spot for Mavis Beacon, the fictional instructor created for Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing. The edutainment software has been offering constant releases since 1987, updating the graphics and mini-games in each iteration. Her heavily-digitised praise still echoes in my mind when I correctly utilise the shift key with my little finger. Each release of the software came bundled with a suite of mini-games, with typing used to drive a car or feed a circus animal. All that accurate typing can get in the way of enjoying gameplay, however, so Space Bear takes a different approach to the genre. Developed by Damon Smith, this epic adventure might not improve your typing skills, but the kinetic joy of mashing the keyboard makes it worth the ride.
You play as the titular Space Bear, a bold adventurer accompanied by a talking spacesuit, Taffy. While on a mission to broker peace with the neighbouring planet’s mole-rat people, the bear stumbles upon a deep conspiracy, making you unable to know who can be trusted. Confronting the Prbear-sident in the sacred form of a dance battle, only the sickest moves will ensure that the truth will be exposed.
Space Bear operates as a choose-your-own-adventure game, with the player typing in what action they would like to take. Bears are clumsy and impatient, however, so mashing the keyboard is the best way to communicate: as long as the first letter of a sentence is accurate, the sentient spacesuit Taffy translates the rest. This wild mashing as a form of input is extremely entertaining, leaving the player feeling just like the erratic character of Space Bear himself.
The actual choices made in Space Bear, however, are somewhat limited: each screen generally gives three or so lines of dialogue to choose from, but none of the decisions change the course of the story, rather just determining what jokes are made. The game is an enjoyable romp as is, but some branching pathways would have added weight to the decisions made, a good incentive to play through the story again. Since the game is very generous with its autosaves, with one occurring at the beginning of each chapter, the possibility of failing could be another way to make choices matter, rather than just picking whatever sounds funniest. Perhaps gumming up the ship’s controls with honey could make the ship crash, or visiting the Prbear-sident while hungover is an unforgivable slight.
While the story is fairly on-the-rails, the journey of Space Bear is still a highly enjoyable one, with lots of action filling out the half-hour playtime. From flying a spaceship to exploring a cave system to participating in a dance battle, Space Bear is constantly on the move, bantering with Taffy all the while. The humour of the game is focused on the element of surprise, but a strong storyline prevents the tale from completely devolving into silliness. Colourful MS Paint-style graphics set the scene for each area nicely, their simplicity contrasting perfectly with the dramatically orchestral score.
Mavis Beacon would not be impressed by Space Bear‘s wanton disregard for proper typing form, but even she could not deny that mashing at the keyboard like a ’90s hacker is surprisingly fun. While the gameplay is quite linear, the combination of a unique input method with a high-energy story and charming visuals makes Space Bear an utterly delightful experience.
Next week, we will be playing Core Defense: Prelude, a tower defence game with a deck-building twist. The game can be downloaded from Steam here. Discussions are happening on the Discord server, or you can email me here.