Whilst developer HAL Laboratory are best known for their work with Nintendo (more specifically with the Kirby series), they also released a cute little physics-based puzzler called Part Time UFO on mobile devices back in 2017. I’ll admit, I never even heard of the game before now, but it offered the same cutesy charm you’d expect from the Kirby series… you just play as a UFO instead of a little pink dude.
Now, with Nintendo stepping back in as publisher, they’ve brought it over to the Nintendo Switch to give console gamers the chance to partake in its charmingly quirky but undeniably brilliant claw-grabbing action.
Part Time UFO puts players in the role of a cute little UFO named Jobski who is looking for work. What better place to search through job listings than on planet Earth? With immigration and working permits seemingly not an issue in this colourful and peaceful take on the planet, he gets to bounce between an array of different locales and complete all sorts of menial and silly tasks in order to fill up his piggy bank with coins.
These jobs require Jobski to use his special claw to complete, with a simple button press lowering it to any objects beneath him and putting it in its clutches… well… provided you’ve lined it up properly, that is. There’s a big emphasis placed on positioning yourself perfectly in order to grab the objects scattered around you, so you do have to take your time when picking them up. Fortunately, it’s a pretty big claw so it can grab almost anything around you, whilst you also won’t get scammed like the grabbing machines in fairgrounds thanks to the pretty strong grip that it has.
You will have to consider the physics of the objects you’re grabbing though, especially since they’ll move around and rotate if you don’t pick them up perfectly. Whilst this might not seem like a big deal when you’re moving items into a box, it can make a heck of a difference when you’re trying to stack them up or perfectly balance them. There’s a big emphasis placed on precision in Part Time UFO so you can’t go into jobs care-free.
I’ve probably made the game sound like it’s some serious working simulator where you can’t make any mistakes whatsoever, haven’t I? Well, Part Time UFO is far from it, with the gameplay mechanics themselves incredibly simple and accessible in design – the jobs you have to complete are all quirky and charming too, with Part Time UFO certainly emphasising the fun side of work when it comes to Jobski’s career path.
The jobs you take on range from simple things such as loading oranges on a van and fishing to more intricate tasks such as building a roman structure, helping an elephant balance other animals on it in a circus, helping a group of cheerleaders build a pyramid, re-building a broken exhibit at a museum, or even making the perfect healthy salad. On paper, they don’t sound like they’d really make for a fun gameplay experience, but the way that they tie into Part Time UFO’s claw-based gameplay is actually pretty brilliant. As mentioned, you need some precision in your actions if you hope to stack everything perfectly and it really makes for some satisfying physics-based gameplay where one clumsy move can see everything collapse around you.
Whilst there’s normally one set objective that you have to complete in order to progress through each job, they also bring with them optional tasks that reward you with additional coins and medals when completed. These are all pretty simple, but you have to work out what exactly they consist of based upon a small picture that acts as a clue. Take the fishing for example, where the clue is a picture of five different varieties of fish – you have to make sure that you catch five different varieties of fish… simple. Alternatively, when making a salad you may have to use very specific ingredients, when stacking animals on the elephant you might have to put a smaller tortoise on top of a bigger one, or when cleaning up toys you’ll have to hang any hoops off a hook on the edge of the toybox. Again, these are pretty simple tasks overall, but they can take a little bit of figuring out to achieve given that you’ve only got a small picture that tells you what to do. It adds an almost puzzle-like vibe to each task and it was pleasantly satisfying trying to work out what I had to do.
It helps add replayability to the game, with each job offering up to three medals which you need to collect to progress through the game and unlock additional work. If you complete all three objectives, you’ll also unlock a tougher version of the job, giving players who want an extra challenge something to test their… uh… UFO-clawing skills. Part Time UFO isn’t a difficult game by any means, but there’s enough challenge there to keep you entertained as you complete each silly task.
There are plenty of jobs to complete in Part Time UFO that’ll have you hooked to the game for a good few hours, but those who prefer a score-chasing experience will want to dive into the Tower of Infinity which tasks you with building as tall of a tower as possible by stacking randomly shaped pieces. It’s like a combination of Jenga and Buckaroo really, except a lot more silly (if that’s possible). There’s also a Treasure Island mode to unlock which offers what feels like a more traditional platforming adventure, with jobs out of the window as you look to make your way through a variety of puzzles to find yourself some goodies. This was actually a really pleasant addition to the experience that plays quite differently from the main job-based gameplay, though it’s pretty short so you shouldn’t expect to spend a long time with it. There’s also an achievement system in place that rewards you for completing specific tasks and reaching gameplay landmarks, so there’s a constant sense of progress in place no matter what you’re doing.
It’s all well and good earning yourself plenty of cash completing jobs in the game, but what can you spend it on? Well, you can purchase a variety of new outfits for Jobski that don’t only swish up his style but also bring with them benefits. The Ninja outfit lets you move fast for example, whilst wearing the beanie lets you go slower. Need more precision in your actions? Wear the Monkey outfit so that your claw is more stabilised. Each outfit brings with it a different benefit that can help you out in levels, but honestly? I just dressed as the Ninja because it looked cool. Still, there’s something mighty satisfying about completing that wardrobe and I’m still playing on now post-completion just to get that Robot and Space Suit…
One of my favourite things about Part Time UFO was the suspense that came with each task. When you finally place the last object you need, there’ll be a little drumroll in place as you eagerly wait to see if it’s going to stay in place and reward you with a success or if it’s going to tumble off and force you to start over. Whilst the latter may sound frustrating, it’s actually pretty comical and charming in the game. I haven’t played many games where failure made me laugh, but having to start a level all over again because I accidentally hit my tower of objects with my claw right at the end? It genuinely brought a smile to my face.
You can even play in co-op, which feels even more frantic… for better and worse. Whilst having a helping hand to carry things around is great, I lost track of the amount of times that my wife and I accidentally collided when trying to ‘work’ together. That might sound like a complaint, but it’s really not – it actually fits the silly vibe of Part Time UFO perfectly and makes for a unique and enjoyable co-op experience. Just expect the occasional argument or two when someone gets in the way…
Oh, and before I end this review, big shout out to the music – the cheery tunes of the game suit the vibe of the experience PERFECTLY and the catchy melodies are still in my head now.
Part Time UFO is a delightful puzzling experience that shows that even the simplest of jobs can be incredibly wacky and fun when there’s a UFO involved. There’s so much to do and see across the game’s varied tasks, whilst the extra objectives will keep you coming back for more – I’ve poured hours in already and I STILL haven’t unlocked all of the game’s achievements and costumes, but I’m having a heck of a good time working towards it.
With additional game modes to tackle that spice up the experience and the manic (but wholly enjoyable) co-op mode that allows players to attempt to work together ‘efficiently’, I can’t see me quitting Part Time UFO’s claw-grabbing escapade any time soon…
Developer: HAL Laboratory
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch