Developed and published by Robot Circus in 2017, Ticket to Earth isn't new. Still, having just discovered this gem thanks to Play Pass, I now feel obligated to tell absolutely everyone about this hit you probably missed.
Ticket to Earth opens on an interstellar colonial conflict. The story's depth took me by surprise, with a gripping plot that pulled me in right away. 90 years before the game's opening, humans traveled to a planet 10-years journey away in search of a resource called Nitrium. After striking proverbial gold on an alien world, a mining operation was established, and New Providence was born.
Rose dreams of someday being able to board the starship that will take her to Earth.
Flash forward to the present, and we now take on the role of Rose. Not lucky enough to be born into the ruling class that dominates New Providence, Rose dreams of someday being able to board the starship that can take her to Earth. But tickets for the 10-year trip aboard the Martian Princess are exorbitantly expensive, and the reality in Rose's town is that the common folk will never make it off New Providence.
The social hierarchy in Ticket to Earth has a major hand in building out the game's atmosphere. Inhabited by a handful of wealthy overlords, many more indentured workers, and an army of robots, New Providence hits close to home with its tale of class inequality and society on the brink of collapse.
You'll want to watch this one unfold for yourself, so I won't go into much more detail than that, but what I can say is that Ticket to Ride positively oozes style. Its aesthetic is a blending of future-punk and vaporwave, complemented by a fabulous color palette and a truly killer soundtrack. As of writing this, I haven't yet been able to find the soundtrack available on any streaming services or YouTube, which is legitimately a tragedy.
The setting is just the icing on the cake, though, and we can't possibly gloss over the foundation that makes Ticket to Earth so fun. Falling into a unique cross-section of a few different genres, Ticket to Earth combines elements of strategic turn-based RPGs with color-match puzzling to create fresh and rewarding gameplay. I wouldn't describe the combat system as simple exactly (I've already failed quite a few encounters), but the tutorials and game progression are very user-friendly, so you get the hang of things quickly.
Imagine chess, but the board changes after each move you and your opponent make.
The game is played through missions which can be as straightforward as kill all the enemies to more nuanced approaches like survive five rounds among a few other general archetypes. In each encounter, you'll be playing on colored grid tiles that correlate to different abilities. Purple tiles relate to the "eye" ability, yellow ones to "hand," red to "heart," and so on. As you move around the grid, tiles you've passed over will cycle out for new tiles, which keeps the movement flowing and forces you to continuously reassess your possible moves. Imagine chess, but with four colors instead of two, and the pattern on the board changes after each move either you or your opponent makes.
Here's the tricky part; you can move continuously along tiles of any given color as long as they touch each other, including diagonals, by drawing a line between your character and where you want to end up. This accomplishes two tasks if you plan it out properly. One, you move into a strategic position that favors you over your enemies. Two; by walking over a given color, you also charge up that color's corresponding ability. For example, if you want to charge up your equipped "eye" ability, you need to walk over at least five purple tiles to get enough energy to activate that ability.
In typical RPG fashion, you can upgrade various abilities as you make progress, allowing you to try out a variety of different skills and customize your playstyle to suit your preferences. On top of that, you'll also have access to a skill tree that unlocks passive bonuses, like greater base strength or more health points. There are also enemy types to keep in mind, as certain enemies are weaker to or more resistant against certain types of attacks.
The combat system is complex in the best way, with plenty of facets to keep players engaged and constantly thinking up new strategies. I found it pretty challenging, but rest assured that there is a more casual difficulty setting for those who want it. Each mission also includes three optional sub-objectives, which will net you greater rewards if you're able to complete them. Naturally, these sub-objectives are more difficult to complete than the primary objective. Still, the game includes a handy-dandy feature that allows you to replay any completed mission at will.
If you miss an input, you'll pay for it dearly
But wait, there's more! Ticket to Earth's user interface and controls on mobile are easy to navigate and intuitive. I never felt like I needed a controller to get the most out of this game. There were a handful of times where I missed an input during combat, and boy, did I pay for those missed inputs dearly. However, there is a setting you can enable which will ask you to confirm each move before it executes, which could save you from accidentally making the same mistakes I did. Even so, these missed inputs were rare for me, and I would hardly consider them an issue.
This doesn't happen often, but I'm struggling to find any noteworthy areas for improvement with Ticket to Earth. If I had been playing the game the way it was originally released, in episodic format, you can bet I would have raged against it. I despise episodic release schedules, and this is coming from someone who adores the Life is Strange series (I hated it then, too, trust me!). But the game is now complete, and all episodes are included in the base game, so this is thankfully a moot point.
I don't think there's much about Ticket to Earth not to like. Did I mention that with all 4 episodes combined, you're likely to get over 20 hours of gameplay out of Ticket to Earth? And despite how great it looks, sounds, and plays, it didn't heat up my old Galaxy S9 too bad either. So, imagine how well it will run on your OnePlus 9. At $4.99, this premium mobile title is already a steal, and it's free to Play Pass subscribers. So please, I'm begging you; play this stellar game!