Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
On its surface, Spacebase Startopia should be a lot of fun. It has a quirky sense of humor, falls into the strategy / sim genre that I enjoy so much and the science fiction setting give the developers all of the flexibility in the world (or perhaps space, as it were) to be creative. However, I can’t help but come away with the feeling that this has all been done better in other games.
The introductory movie had me grinning. That kind of slapstick humor is going to be hit and miss with people, but this is the same development team that brought us the three Dungeons games. They have a somewhat dark sense of humor, and I generally appreciated it here – though I thought it was generally better done in Dungeons I,II and III.
You want to play the tutorial once things get fired up – because there is a lot here. This is a pretty complex simulation game, and it does feel as though it was built with PC in mind and then ported to a variety of consoles. This is something I often am a proponent of – I want to see more strategy titles brought over to consoles as that is my preferred platform, but I will admit that the controls were a bit finicky for me at times. Menus are dense, sometimes you need to use two buttons to bounce around them effectively and moving around the screen with the left stick sometimes does zooming in and out instead of actually panning about, making the camera a sometimes annoying enemy to wrestle with.
That is a shame too, because I enjoyed the visuals of Spacebase Startopia quite a bit. They’re bright and colorful, with lots of little aliens bopping around my three floored station. That being said, the view is restricted to just the three floors and there’s no real sense of growth to the station itself. There’s a satisfying feeling that comes with watching a province grow in strategy games like Romance of the Three Kingdoms or watching your dungeon in Dungeons III expand as you carve out more passages and rooms. I get that space stations probably can’t ‘grow’ quite so easily, but there is a sense of confinement to how the playing field is structured that just made Spacebase Startopia a little less satisfying by comparison.
To its credit, the three different levels in Spacebase Startopia each serve a different purpose, and the resource management / inhabitant happiness / expansion tug-of-war is a pretty well-balanced one most of the time. You use energy to create buildings, you have bots and aliens performing various tasks along the way and you have to try and find that sweet spot between productivity and happiness with a bit of RTS combat tossed in for good measure. When all of its parts are working in harmony, Spacebase Startopia is a pretty entertaining little sim.
The biggest issue outside of the somewhat clumsy control / UI is that the AI tends to be a bit unpredictable. There were times I would give my units commands and they just sort of sat there trying to decide if I was actually in charge of them or not. That happiness / working balance is a bit tough to find too. There were many times I felt I had a building staffed properly, but it felt as though my workers were spending 2/3 of their time relaxing instead of actually doing thigs. This forced me to overstaff my structures in order to keep them functioning, which in turn throws off the overall balance.
Campaign / mission structure’s often well-done, with a sort of competitiveness in its objectives that help to keep things fresh and not simply ‘building things up for the sake of building things up’. The mission structure combined with the quirky humor had me entertained more often than not, even when grappling with overly lazy workers or fickle camera angles. The music and sound effects match the bright visual aesthetic well enough, creating a pleasant overall aesthetic.