REVIEW: Learn to love the grime with Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator
Every so often, an artist enters a space and shakes things up with innovative thinking and a general willingness to just try things. Xalavier Nelson Jr. was one to follow from the first minute I encountered his work.
From writing on Hypnospace Outlaw to taking the world by storm with his dog-petting airport simulator, An Airport for Aliens Currently Run by Dogs, Nelson has shown an ability to craft engaging narratives in the most abstract of settings. His team at Strange Scaffold has discovered profound ways to mine joy from the most seemingly mundane gameplay setups.
I'm proud to report that, with their latest release, Xalavier Nelson Jr. and his troupe of talented game dev fiends at Strange Scaffold have done it all again.
Just the Facts
Developer: Strange Scaffold
Publisher: Strange Scaffold
Platform(s): PC*, Xbox One, Xbox Series S and X *platform reviewed on
Price: $19.99, free via PC Game Pass subscription
Release Date: Dec. 7, 2021
Key provided by Strange Scaffold.
Strange Scaffold's strange swaps
It won't take long for you to realize that you're in for something unusual with Strange Scaffold's latest. The title alone takes you on a journey.
Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator, or SWOTS for short, places you in the shoes of a novice day trader taking their first steps into the world of black market organ sales. A fellow trader shows you the ropes and provides all the tools you need to succeed and let loose to make your fortune, however you see fit.
With at least seven unique endings, you'll find your organ trading influencing the galaxy in a myriad of ways. You'll help bring cult leaders back from the dead, murder rival traders, and have a hand in summoning meaty natural disasters.
Nelson's clever writing is sprinkled throughout, hidden in every form of flavor text.
In the goofy descriptions of your rival traders. In the one-off events that interrupt your trading. In any of the game's over-the-top endings. It all flows into your play experience so smoothly that you'll barely register just how great it is.
Especially when you're busy hawking spleens and capitalizing on the rush of eyeballs that dropped in a surprise shipment.
But let's not beat around the bush. Let's call a Fuzzwimble a Fuzzwimble. SWOTS is weird.
In nearly every way, this game is absurd. And it delights in its own absurdity. It only attempts to get weirder and weirder as it goes, and I love it for that. Strange Scaffold made a game that revels in late-stage capitalism (like...the latest stage possible) and THEY ADDED KINECT SUPPORT TO IT.
Let your freak flag fly, Strange Scaffold.
Lo-fi beats to get grimy to
More than just absurdity, SWOTS is about the grime. Every aspect of the game contributes to a general grimy vibe that you lose yourself to. We talk a lot about cozy games — and while I find a lot about the experience cozy (it's a personal problem) — SWOTS wants you to get dirty.
It starts with the gameplay. The bulk of your playtime will be spent buying low and selling high on the organ market. You initiate each buy period by smackin' a big red button and entering the arena against up to four rival traders. You get just two and a half minutes to rise in the ranks, earning money and reputation along the way.
You'll keep an eye on the organ stock market, buying up organs (and shares) when their prices are down and selling them when the market stabilizes. You'll keep track of the Request board, accumulating cash and notoriety by fulfilling clients' orders. Make sure to buy organs cheaper than the price they're willing to pay or else you're leaving money on the table.
Requests refresh daily, with a few specific narrative requests popping up now and again that'll push you toward one of the game's endings. It takes around two hours of trading to get an ending, and we nailed four of the game's endings after just eight hours of play.
Progression is centered around these narrative requests and in raising your reputation to unlock new organs and request types. You also have a limited cargo hold to maintain and upgrade as you go, giving you more than a few goals to chase.
There's plenty to consider when buying organs, including the size, condition, rarity, and blood type of each organ — some of which you'll need to keep in mind when fulfilling late-game requests. When you first hit the organ market, you'll likely be overwhelmed by the info the game tosses at you. But once you get your feet under you, you'll be scanning through the marketplace like a pro, highlighting important info with a glance and prioritizing which organs to purchase with your internal shopping list.
It's distressing how quickly you stop seeing these organs as organs and instead as means to profitable ends. The grime spreads and you stop considering the moral implications of the organ trade and start wondering how you'll become a millionaire. When the game warned me that I had just bought organs off of an illegal harvester, I didn't even skip a beat. THE GRIME.
Organ trading is the new caffeine
When it comes to actually playing SWOTS, you're kind of just navigating menus, scanning for info, and clicking buy or sell. On paper, it doesn't sound like much. But promise me when I say that describing this game really undersells the high octane action of the organ trading lifestyle.
The two-and-a-half-minute time limit keeps the pressure on. There's a constant threat of rival traders sneaking the perfect organ out from under you, and random events threaten your tenuous pool of credits. There's a genuine adrenaline rush to it all. Much like the real stock market and day trading experience, it's all just gambling and gambling is fun. Especially when it's fictional.
Like gambling, there's an addictive quality to organ trading too. With the short buying period, it's easy to keep running it back, chasing profits and specific organs needed for high-paying requests. The rate at which endings fly by also places satisfying punctuation marks on sessions, and before you know it, hours have slipped away.
"In nearly every way, this game is absurd. And it delights in its own absurdity."
But I don't think SWOTS would be half the blood-pumpin' game it is without RJ Lake's killer soundtrack. Contributing to the grime, Lake's created a soundscape that fits somewhere between the thumping piracy software MIDIs of the early '00s and an industrial hip-hop soundtrack that you'd expect to find accompanying a club scene in some out-of-touch hacker movie from the '90s.
Tracks are reactive, changing in style and instrumentation depending on the tab you have open. As you prepare in between trading days, tracks are calm and cozy. The second you open the market, tracks kick up several notches and push you forward with driving momentum. It's an excellent soundtrack that'll have you singing along to the beat with the names of organs you're looking to buy on the market.
Tie that to SWOTS's visual grunge, with its neon green tones and distorted organ visuals, and the impact of THE GRIME hits in full force.
SWOTS isn't without its flaws. Inherent with the stock market and day trading simulation elements, there are a few pieces of the experience that quell the otherwise enjoyable pace. Market volatility, the happenstance nature of which organs drop, and a few random events can just halt all progression, forcing you to build back up or waste entire days doing nothing.
Obviously, these elements introduce the only semblance of "difficulty" in the entire experience. But when you genuinely have nothing to do because the organs you're looking for aren't dropping and you don't want to cancel requests because it will hurt your overall reputation, frustration builds. And even if the ridiculousness of the game's entire premise appeals to you, it's easy to imagine someone bouncing off of the relatively routine play experience.
But I loved it. I wished there was even just one more element to ground us in the world —maybe a dystopian hovel we could upgrade with our ill-gotten gains — but in the end, my stat-obsessed brain loved min-maxing the organ trade and getting grimy with fellow traders.
Xalavier Nelson Jr. keeps bringing the heat and Strange Scaffold remains a team to watch moving forward.
If they could get me to even vaguely understand the appeal of stocks, they can do anything.
video games are good and Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator is . . . GREAT (8/10)
+ inherently unique experience, a banging soundtrack, excellent bits of writing - market volatility and pace of play hold it back from brilliance. despite an intriguing setup, the play experience is not for everyone
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