Space. It is vast. An endless expanse that captures the mind and stretches the limits of human comprehension. A frontier where distances are so wide that voyages are measured in years and decades instead of hours and days.

Luckily for you, it’s also chock-full of decaying hulks carrying collectible junk, and that’s where you come in, in today’s piece of the Big Steaming Pile, CARGO COMMANDER by Serious Brew and Missing Link Games.

You play as a newly-minted employee of CargoCorp, a company specializing in the recovery of valuables from dangerous areas and equally-expert at shady business practices. Your ship is floating about the space wastelands, and after selecting one of roughly a hojillion randomly generated sectors to start your salvaging, you crank up the ship’s magnet and start slamming containers alongside you. Each sector is made up of 10 different waves, and the basic objective is to collect as many different types of goodies and rack up as many points as possible.

On paper, CARGO COMMANDER plays like a standard 2D platformer, but there are some enjoyable quirks tossed in to add some layers to the gameplay. For one, gravity – or the lack thereof – plays an important role in the proceedings. If you’re outside your ship or a container, you float around in space, which can allow you to enter a container from a different side or avoid an enemy ambush, although you can and will run out of oxygen if you linger outside. You also come equipped with a blowtorch that can burn a hole in most walls, allowing you to create gaps to go up or down floors or generate a quick escape route if your back is against the wall, which allows for some light puzzle-solving elements in the gameplay. You can’t burn/explode through every wall though (indestructible walls are designated with orange/black striped paint), which forces you at times to find new ways to break in or plan ahead to figure out an exit strategy.

Things get topsy-turvy fast in space.

You won’t have time enough to dally and search every inch of each container, though; after a while, a black hole opens up and sucks up all the containers, which can leave you stranded in space. So when you hear the warning, you’d be well-advised to hightail it back to the safety of your ship. Each wave of containers also ramps up a bit in difficulty, as you’ll encounter more and varied enemies along the way, from suicide-bombing aliens to weird little drill-looking bugs that can fly through space and harass you between containers.

You yourself are well-equipped to fight back, however. You start off with a nailgun that works well against most garden-variety enemies, and can switch off between that, a six-shooter that packs a lot of punch, a shotgun and a magbomb launcher that can be remote detonated to clear out a room safely or improvise an escape route by blowing holes in walls and floors. You can also upgrade your weapons and tools by collecting caps (baseball, not bottle) along the way and cashing them in using your ship’s computer, as well as being rewarded with certain upgrades through leveling up and collecting different cargo. Also, at the halfway point of each sector, you’ll reach a single massive container holding a sector pass, which allows you to unlock new sectors for travel, and with the multitude of sectors to choose from, you’ll most likely never run out of new places to travel and new containers to rummage through.

The presentation here is quite excellent as well. Cel-shaded graphics give CARGO COMMANDER a rather cartoony feel, but given the absurdity of the setting, it works well. The aliens you’ll be wading through look menacing enough, and the derelicts you’ll be digging through are dark and dank and properly foreboding. Containers slam into your ship with an appreciable thud, explosions sound appropriately meaty, and while the same background music plays pretty much the entire time, it’s generally not grating, and you’ll be far more focused on scooting around in space and blasting enemies to focus too much on it. There are a lot of neat little touches that flesh things out, like concerned e-mails from your wife and son back home and your coffee mug that allows you to move faster than normal, not to mention the taunt button, which allows you to unleash f-bombs at will, which, while functionally useless, is still fun in its own right. The actual treasures you’re digging up are a delight as well, especially when you realize you’re risking your neck out in space for such valuables as half-eaten donuts and single roller skates.

Cargo guarding an alien egg.

There are some other drawbacks as well. While there is a seemingly infinite supply of levels to play through, the core gameplay never really changes, so whether Cargo Commander falls on the addictive side or the repetitive side is up to you. Also, while there’s a ton of available sectors, there aren’t as many types of cargo, so it’s entirely possible to unlock a new sector only to find the array of cargo in the new one is the exact same types as in the sector you just played through. And like I mentioned above, for some reason, the music selection is somewhat glitched and you can’t change the background music, so if you don’t like the main space-folk theme, you’re probably going to get annoyed very quickly.

It should also be mentioned that if you have any intention of cracking the global leaderboards on any sectors, you’re pretty much going to have to string together a flawless run where you collect every nugget of cargo and kill just about every available enemy, because apparently certain people take this game VERY seriously and put a great deal of effort into extracting every possible point from it.

CARGO COMMANDER may not be the deepest game in the Steam library, but what is here is quite good. It’s the definition of casual pick-up-and-play-and-put-down-again action, and the physics and puzzle elements add a nice chocolate coating to the 2D platforming action. It’s certainly a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and the story is rather charming between the blast-and-dash gameplay. Not to mention that CARGO COMMANDER is dirt cheap to pick up from the Steam store; there’s almost no reason not to at least give it a try if the concept interests you at all. I highly recommend it if you’re into some simplistic action with just enough wrinkles to feel fresh, or anyone looking for an old-school arcade feel with modern accoutrements. Just remember, in space, just like on Earth, don’t drop your coffee mug.

Current Price – $2.99

Is It Worth It? – C’mon, man, you can’t scrounge up three dollars from loose change in the couch?