Conquering the galaxy is no easy task. In between the busy schedule of invading solar systems and probing cows, aliens find leisure in munching Mars bars, sipping Slurpees, and dancing to disco. Spacebase Startopia is the go-to space station for E.T.’s day off. Starbucks is virtually located in the stars, DJ moths love space jamming to Nep-tunes, and your space station AI has a terrible taste in “comet-y.” Spacebase Startopia is an intergalactic theme park simulator developed by Realmforge Studios, available for PC, Xbox, Playstation, and the Nintendo Switch.
Commander, But Not Shepard
Employed as Commander of the Spacebase Startopia, it is your duty to improve the diplomatic relations of extraterrestrial species by providing them with the finest get-away paradise a space station can offer. That being said, those hoping for a comprehensive narrative in Spacebase Startopia are out of luck. Each of the ten campaign missions primarily functions as a glorified extensive tutorial. The story aspect will be on the backburner as the meaty gameplay lies in the sandbox mode.
A Party in Need of “Atmosphere”
Spacebase Startopia markets itself as an empire-building strategy simulator with a hint of RTS. However, the gameplay feels more similar to that of an outer space theme park simulator. The name of the game is to keep your alien guests satisfied with your services and recreational facilities. As you expand, you unlock new workshops and gizmos, which increases your gains in positive reputation points among the interstellar community. Yet, you can’t expect everything to be hunky-dory in the whimsical universe of Spacebase Startopia. Space pirates, mutant slugs, and cockroach bugs will terrorize your establishments regularly. Not to mention, amidst the crowd of cute and cuddly aliens, there are prowling criminals and pickpockets seeking to take advantage of the system. On top of all this, your sassy AI companion is constantly demanding you choose the randomly generated choices of “bad or worse” as you frantically try to micromanage your intergalactic resort.
You manage a donut-shaped space station composed of three decks. The bottom layer is the nitty-gritty industrial area where your guests will enter. Here you will place accommodations, factories, hospitals, recycling centers, research stations, and the like. Section 2 is where the fun happens. Disco dance floors, cat cafes, casinos, and all sorts of spas and carnival rides — this is the level where passengers go to get their groove on. The more entertaining and exciting Layer 2 becomes, the better rep your aliens will give Spacebase Startopia on their “spacebook” accounts. The third and final sector is your lush, colorful space garden. Most of your resources like oxygen or minerals will come from harvesting the diverse flora located on the varied terrains.
A Workforce that Keeps “Spacing” Out
You can’t run Startopia‘s entire economy on your own. Hiring guests to serve as your employees is essential for your operation. However, a big issue with your extraterrestrial guests is that — they don’t want to work. A good practice is to hire twice the number of aliens to cover the shifts of the required positions. After all, your workers need to eat, sleep, and rest just like humans. The problem is your workforce would prefer to romp on the disco floor, frolic aimlessly about the station, or do just about anything else than doing their job. In one instance, I had constructed four research stations to quickly finish an assigned campaign task. The workers I hired were 32 big-brained alien octopi (only 16 were needed) to accommodate shifts in work time. Surprisingly, no one showed up for the first few minutes. I then proceeded to employ every jellyfish brain in the entire space station to come work at the research centers. With a total of over 50 workers, there wasn’t a single moment when all 16 required seats were simultaneously filled. To put it another way, it is challenging to run a space station with a workforce that dislikes work. Your security officers are lazily loafing about during pirate attacks, and your recycling centers will be overloaded because its engineers are busy sniffing tulips in the space garden.
An Interactive Environment Full of Non-Interactivity
The first few hours of a Spacebase Startopia session are usually the most enjoyable. Seeing your station full of activity and ever-growing expansion creates that sim-game sense of pride and accomplishment. Nevertheless, as time goes on, the micromanagement becomes all the more “micromanagey.” Your HUD’s sidebar relentlessly fills with useless information like “a slug in Area 5 is spitting at your customers” or “Larry Blurb is quitting his job because he couldn’t disco dance enough.” The thing is, there’s nothing you can do about any of it. In Spacebase Startopia, units will perform tasks only if they feel like it. Apart from the building or research, you don’t have much control over other aspects of gameplay. Mostly everything is randomized and automatic, leaving you to fend for yourself when disaster strikes. Probably the most interaction you’ll have with your guests is manually picking up the litter they constantly cover your floors with.
2001 Sim Coaster allowed you to go down first-person into your establishment, walk around, and even ride on the various rides in your theme park. In Spacebase Startopia, I can but stare longingly at activities in the funhouse deck or industry sector, wistfully wishing for some engaging interactivity with what’s shown on screen. The ingredients for something great are undoubtedly here. Yet, Spacebase Startopia manages to fall on its face at the most basic levels of interactive gameplay, especially the atrocious RTS combat that is in critical need of a rework.
The Visuals Do Their Job, Unlike the Aliens
Graphically, Startopia‘s sci-fi yet comical presentation is visually pleasing. The designs of each creature and structure are distinctive enough to easily recognize and discern their utility. Sadly, the same cannot be said about the game’s UI and cluttered HUD. The icons that appear on screen are too vague, making it difficult to distinguish symbols and imagery at first glance. Additionally, the rising levels of excessive micromanagement you’ll deal with only make the visual system more irksome.
Startopia‘s soundtrack has an old-school sci-fi touch to it. The tangy tunes won’t suit everyone’s taste, but they are unquestionably catchy, to say the least. On the other hand, the tracks are limited and become wearisome after a while, so I’d recommend turning off the music after getting your fill for the first few hours. The audio and sound effects exist but don’t add much flavor to the experience. More noticeably, there’s an audio bug where opening and closing the menu will reset the current in-game music, cut off noise and sound effects, or turn off the sound completely.
Bug Infestation in Space
Speaking of bugs, Spacebase Startopia is full of them. Everywhere you turn, you’ll find some noticeable bug or glitch that will be an annoyance for a bit but quickly becomes forgettable — much like the Startopia‘s experience as a whole. I did run into a few game-breaking bugs. For example, during a campaign mission where I had to craft some items in my factory, the factory’s UI had disappeared completely. Only after restarting the mission twice was I able to continue with my business. Because a wiki or fandom for Startopia is non-existent at the moment, finding help online for any gameplay problems or bugs is pointless. It seems the empty vacuum of space doesn’t even acknowledge this pitiful game’s existence.
Not My Cup of “Gravi-Tea”
Frankly speaking, for a game priced at $40 to $50, Spacebase Startopia is woefully unpolished. The developers released a decent space sim experience that, at its best, feels like a $15 early access title. It does have its fun and “chillaxing” moments, but these instances cower at the feet of all the endless issues Spacebase Startopia holds as a complete product. Looking at all the game’s flashy screenshot showcases online, you might imagine the Startopia is something special — only to “lift the hood” and see a hamster wheel instead of an actual game engine.
- Decent fun in the first few hours of Free Mode
- Visuals have a cute and distinct old-school charm
- A noticeable lack of polish in gameplay (e.g., the combat)
- The alien workforce hates working
- Bugs and glitches galore
- High price tag for essentially an unfinished product