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This roguelike “fix ‘em up” might be the best puzzle game of 2024

Uncle Chop’s Rocket Shop is a cute but deadly repair sim where you use an eldritch IKEA manual to fix spaceships and live to work another day.

Uncle Chop's Rocket Shop preview: Wilbur, the fox-headed furry mechanic and main protagonist of Beard Envy's roguelike fix-em-up.

The rent is due, and my landlord is going to kill me. No, this isn’t a cry for help – it’s actually the failure state for Uncle Chop’s Rocket Shop, a “roguelite fix ‘em up” that’s quite unlike anything I’ve played before.

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Protagonist Wilbur is emblematic of Uncle Chop’s Rocket Shop as a whole: an adorable fox-headed fella who, on closer inspection, is actually a pot-bellied furry with a penchant for tattoos and slim-fit tank tops. Of course, he isn’t much more than a bloody smear on the sidewalk once my rent payment fails and he’s crushed to death, ACME-style. “Capitalism is hardcore,” Kasedo Games QA lead Jack Grant remarks during my hands-off preview at GDC. After repeated attempts to beat capitalism in the puzzle game’s latest playtest, I can’t help but agree.

Thankfully, I’m saved from this very permanent death by Droose, described by Grant as “part-time god of death slash colleague and best friend” with the power to transport Wilbur right back to his first day on the job. It’s a neat little nod to the classic roguelike game loop that raises some major questions right out of the gate. Why is the god of death so desperate to keep a small-time, outer-space mechanic alive, and why does he show such deference to the eponymous Uncle Chop? I don’t have time to dwell on these questions for long. After all, the rent is due in three days, and my landlord is going to kill me. So instead, I get to work.

Uncle Chop's Rocket Shop preview: Droose in his true form as the god of death, an insectoid entity with a large scythe in a liminal red space, towering over Wilbur.

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes and A Little to the Left are clear inspirations behind Uncle Chop’s tactile puzzles, and manipulating the mechanisms of each module is as challenging as it is satisfying. Wilbur also has a toolbox that includes a screwdriver, wrench, and other tools to dismantle these modules, and each one is as satisfying to manipulate as the parts themselves. The wrench requires a literal wrench of the mouse, while the screwdriver will have me muttering “righty tighty, lefty loosey” under my breath as I work.

“These modules can show up with loads of different problems,” Grant says. “The actual modules all work a certain way but the way they break is almost infinite. It’s combination-based, and the harder the difficulty, the more you have to worry about.” As I work, I have access to a small workspace where I can consult my grimoire, dispose of broken items, and transport whatever I need from one station to another. “Papers, Please is a big inspiration,” Grant explains. Like Papers, Please, everything I place here takes up space, and I have to fight to arrange bulky fluid receptacles, bulbs, and other components around the instructions I’m desperately trying to follow.

Uncle Chop's Rocket Shop preview: Once of the puzzle modules, which resembles a polaroid camera set into an industrial sci-fi framework.

The grimoire is a veritable tome of useful diagrams marked by numbers, arrows, and ‘if-then’ qualifiers that break down the form and function of each ship part. These instructions are as helpful as they are utterly opaque. “It’s almost like following IKEA instructions,” Grant laughs. A cursory flip through the grimoire begins with the fundamentals – fuel, oil, and headlights – but then descends into the sci-fi realm of star maps, snail-powered rebreathers, and Clifford, an AI ship assistant prone to emotional shutdowns. It’s a lot to digest, to put it mildly.

“Realistically, you’re going to get it wrong – that’s fine,” Grant says. This is, in effect, the learning curve for Uncle Chop’s Rocket Shop, and it’s a refreshing alternative to the usual brand of reactivity that action-roguelites demand. I still have to work fast and think on my feet, but these puzzles scratch a very different itch than parry timings or build customization. “We wanted to do something that was more based on player knowledge rather than just putting hours into the game,” Grant explains.

Uncle Chop's Rocket Shop preview: The u-bend of a filthy toilet in one of the spaceship modules, which must be cleaned out and repaired.

A typical workday lasts eight minutes, lending Uncle Chop’s Rocket Shop a snappy pace that you can squeeze into a lunch break or daily commute, giving it early potential to become one of the best Steam Deck games. “There’s also an untimed mode for people who don’t like those kind of stresses,” Grant clarifies, which should be a welcome relief to anyone who’d rather work through Uncle Chop’s Rocket Shop at their own pace.

Once I’ve got to grips (literally) with all these wires, switches, and components, those step-by-step routines become second nature. I no longer have to open the grimoire to complete a straightforward fuel job or oil change, but the challenge to maximize my efficiency persists. There’s an inherent satisfaction in working through a job with speed and precision, and it also comes with material rewards in the form of accolades and a hefty tip.

Uncle Chop's Rocket Shop preview: One of the aliens, a goldfish in a glass bowl, orders Wilbur to get to work as he pulls up in his spaceship.

Uncle Chop’s bosses take the form of immutable customers with clapped-out ships that have far more complex problems than can be fixed with a routine oil change. In my first encounter with one of these heavy-duty clients, I’m dismayed to discover that this job requires the Honk Pancake Maker, a workshop machine that I don’t have and takes a day to arrive. I’m forced to complete the job half-finished, and while it costs me this run, it gives me the incentive to invest in it early on in the next one.

The Rocket Shop is also subject to random events that offer a slightly different challenge from the usual gamut of clients and clunkers, such as the ship that crash-lands in the pit one morning, wreathed in fire and black smoke, the pilot’s dead body slumped over the side. However, if this roguelike teaches us anything, it’s how to make the best of a bad situation – and so I get to work, dousing the flames and getting it into a decent enough shape to profit off it. It’s also an early indicator of just how dire the consequences can be. “If you mess up too badly on specific modules or if there’s space weather like meteors, then the module can set on fire and you need to incorporate that into your strategy,” Grant explains.

Uncle Chop's Rocket Shop preview: Wilbur speaks to Kyle, the cryptid living in his basement that guards a jukebox.

Uncle Chop’s meta-progression takes the rather unconventional form of a demonic jukebox guarded by Kyle, the affable cryptid living in Wilbur’s basement. Here, I can trade special coins for permanent upgrades, including the ability to extend the working day, reroll job listings, and keep customers in a good mood for longer. Conversely, there’s also plenty of opportunity for seasoned mechanics to test their mettle in subsequent runs with mystery jobs. “It could be something really easy to repair, it could be free [coins], it could be a mysterious undead reindeer merchant – but it’s also a lot of risk,” Grant adds. These jobs also come with modifiers, and I quickly fall foul to nightmare customers who won’t tolerate any mistakes.

Among all these random elements, there remains a cohesion to the world of Uncle Chop’s Rocket Shop that speaks to a rich universe beyond the confines of this backwater garage. I begin to identify alien species by the ship model that touches down. Grant also delves into some alien factions we can encounter as their members come to us for repairs. The High Faction, for example, consists of “aliens that will rent out their bodies to the Donut Shop in exchange for money” while another faction is an unrepentant VR machine cult.

Uncle Chop's Rocket Shop preview: One alien in the cafe tells another that he can't eat his own faeces as Wilbur looks on.

These factions are also Wilbur’s ticket off Uncle Chop’s capitalist treadmill. Once Wilbur’s clocked out and all the clients have gone on their merry way, Grant takes me to a secret speakeasy below Droose’s cafe. Here, I can explore an alternate mode of progression by fulfilling the requests of this out-of-hours clientele, with the promise of unique dialogue, locations, and eventually, a definitive ending.

“There’s six paths you can go down, and if you do them all, you get a hidden true ending,” Grant says. One run will take between six to eight hours, but this wealth of replayability could put a full completion at over 40 hours. “Ideally, the first run would take you quite a long time to complete. But when you complete the faction runs, all of their ships and unique modules go into the run, so it gets harder as you go along.”

Uncle Chop's Rocket Shop preview: Wilbur stands by as a crashed spaceship is engulfed in flames.

Grant cites Rick and Morty as inspiration for Uncle Chop’s Rocket Shop’s humor and visual style. This brand of comedy isn’t usually my cup of tea, but I find Beard Envy’s interpretation far less grating than other attempts to replicate Roiland’s style. “It’s tough, because you don’t want to be cringe, right?” Grant grins. “Luckily, because the developers are just three guys from Britain, that British humor is just ingrained.”

As steeped in American culture as Uncle Chop’s Rocket Shop may be, its depiction of blue-collar sci-fi reminds me as much of Red Dwarf as it does Rick and Morty. After all, someone has to fix the chicken soup machines and spaceships of the future – why shouldn’t it be a fox-headed furry trapped in a time loop?

A demo for Uncle Chop’s Rocket Shop is planned for the upcoming Steam Next Fest in June, so if you’re desperate to get your hands on this roguelike repair simulation game, save the date using our Steam sale guide. There are also plenty of upcoming PC games to check out before Uncle Chop descends in November 2024.