Niche Game: Space Station Silicon Valley

Niche games: Âwe’ve all played them. ÂThey’re the games that you remember for a long time because they’re so unique. ÂSometimes they’re the only ones ever made like them. ÂOther times they were trailblazers for their kind of gameplay. ÂBut what they have in common is the bravery to try something new, allowing them to rise above the imitators. ÂEven though there might be newer games with shinier graphics, these games are still worth playing because they’re something different, something special.

If you look at a list of my favorite games, they tend to be the ones where gameplay is ever-changing, where you either have multiple characters with different abilities, or you can newly acquire vehicles throughout the plot. Space Station Silicon Valley is a prime example, as you spent the game constantly hopping from host to host, each with its own unique abilities. DMA Design (which later became Rockstar North) created this game back in 1998–they seem to have a particular talent for making games with a variety of gameplay, which may be one of the reasons they’ve been so successful. I honestly can’t believe this game has received so little attention, it is simply great but I’ve met very few people who know about it at all.

In the plot of the game, a space station was put into orbit around earth filled with animals. It was intended to be a high-tech amusement park. But the station disappeared shortly thereafter. Everyone thought it had disappeared forever but in the year 3000 it reappears on a collision course for Earth. “Heroes for hire” Danger Dan and his robot partner Evo are sent to investigate and to prevent the collision.

As they’re flying their ship to the station, they’re arguing over the choice of radio station and they manage to crash into the station as a result. Evo is shattered into many pieces, scattered into various areas of the station, and the game starts as you take control of the only remaining functioning piece, his CPU chip. The control chip itself crawls around like an insect, using its pins for legs, and it takes damage quickly with nothing to protect it from environmental factors.

Before the ship crashes, we see a scene showing Flossy the sheep and Roger their dog finally admitting their love for each. The spaceship lands and kills the dog instantly. This is typical of the fun and weird sense of humor this game has. It’s also convenient, because the Evo chip has a convenient host in the dead (dormant) dog-bot.

Strange things have been happening on the ship over the course of a millenium. The animals have evolved and merged with mechanical components on the ship, creating a diverse array of robo-animals. Some of them look like real animals, others are obvious hybrids, such as a polar bear with tank treads instead of legs, or a camel with a turret cannon in place of his hump. Each and every one of them can be taken over and controlled, but there’s a catch. Evo can only take over a host that is already dormant, which means that he has to defeat the animal first.

Each type of animal has its own set of abilities which must be used to solve environmental puzzles in the game. The sheep is one of the first animals you encounter. It has no attack, but it can glide slowly down, floating like the little puffy cloud that it resembles, which lets it cross long gaps easily. Also in the early stages you can become a dog which can jump and bite. Hyenas have contagious laughter which causes area-of-effect damaging hysteria. Pigeons can grip dormant robots and carry them from place to place. You get the point.

The space station is split into four environments, a European zone (foxes, dogs, sheep, and the like), an ice zone (polar bears, penguins, and others), jungle zone (hyenas, lions,…), and the desert zone (vultures, camels,…). As you progress through the game you are always coming across new animals that you must take over and use each animal’s abilities to progress through the game.

Danger Dan does not play an active role in the game, as the crash has trapped him inside the ship, but he is the one that hands down missions to Evo. Before the exit teleporter will activate, you have to complete your objectives, which are different for every stage. A few examples of missions. Some of the missions make sense, such as opening a security door into the next area, and some of them don’t. For instance, some of them say things like “Bring me something fluffy”. But Dan’s the boss-man, so you’ve gotta do what he says. In addition to the main objectives, you can also find souvenirs in some levels, gold objects that commemorate your time there. They help add some replay value if you want to go back and collect them.

The humor of the game is great. The interaction between Danger Dan and Evo in particular. Some of the animals just look and act really funny. The sheep in particular has the most stupid look on its face it just makes me laugh, and Dan’s mission objectives, though sometimes random and nonsensical, add some variety to a mission-based game.

The graphics aren’t spectacular by today’s standards (duh), and many of the animals are blocky. But that’s okay, they’re robots, so maybe the robots really are blocky.

Getting your hands on this game shouldn’t be a problem. A quick eBay search turns up 11 entries, with Buy It Now prices as low as $15 (for a “very good” condition cartridge with no manual) to $70 (factory sealed). In addition, it’s very possible you could find a ROM for this on the net, though I can’t vouch for that–I’ve never dabbled in N64 ROMs.

If you like gameplay with variety, you can’t go wrong with this game and it’s menagerie of mechanical critters. Enjoy!