Nostalgia is a dangerous animal that I am probably aware of. Like many people, I have almost pathologically fond memories of the original Startopia, a management sim about running a donut-shaped space station (so in this case, the nostalgia-beast is a kind of tentacle-clad monster that lives in a space feed eating robots). Any reboot, sequel or remake of Startopia has a lot of built-in goodwill, but also many rose-colored expectations to fulfill.
Spacebase Startopia is not technically a sequel to ̵
When you get to a very specific level, Spacebase Startopia has a bit of an inevitable grain-aisle-on-Lidl vibe. You know, Chocolate Wheatoids and Rice Crunchies with mascots called Pow, Crinkle and Blammo. So there, 20 years ago, aliens who grew plants on the top deck of your station were purple hippies with four arms, in 2021 they are graceful Poison Ivy types with large pear-shaped flower heads. And look, Chocolate Wheatoids can probably not be separated from your chosen breakfast, but they are not what you ate as a child, godammit, so it is with Starbase Startopia. It’s a bit of a mental block to vault at first, but when you do, you’ll probably have one (extraterrestrial star) whale at a time.
Stations in Spacebase Startopia are divided into three: the aforementioned bio deck at the top, the fun deck in the middle where you can build massive discos, and the bottom deck for basic needs like sleep and food, as well as more industrial things like your factory, security forces and research laboratory.
The management aspect tries to keep everyone happy, within the confines of a space station. Opening sliding doors to a new section costs more and more each time, so you tend to be conservative with your room. But you must also make sure that you place enough robotic boxes and air filters, because the closer everyone is packed, and the busier it is, the more likely people are to get sick. And if that happens, you will have to build more arches, and who needs it?
Spacebase expands where you expect a modern game to do so. In addition to nutrition, rest and health, visitors need entertainment. Some will prefer gambling, for which you can build arcades, or literal lootbox fruit that dispenses hats (which your visitors will wear while walking around), while others will visit the foreign cat cafe. You may have to deal with thieves who really ruin the mood, and there is always the chance of random events disrupting things like asteroids, bombs from rival bases or inspections by bureaucrats. I feel moved to say that this time you can build a giant Gundam-like mech for your security team, which is pretty damn cool.
Every few minutes, visitors will vote on whether or not they like the station, giving you a percentage point. Your influence is also represented in points, which is a currency for unlocking aliens with higher levels and different building types. So in other words: the better your drive, the better you can do it.
It’s multiplayer if it floats your boat and it comes in both competitive and co-op flavors. But for my money, this was not the best part of the original Startopia anyway – even if it extends the game’s life past the single player camp, if that’s a big selling point for you.
But the campaign is fun, you know? The scenarios are not life-changing, with different, easy goals to fulfill that encourage different playing styles such as earning X amounts, or completing X amount of tasks. But they make you feel like you’re actually very bloody good at running a space station, and more importantly, they’ll throw some classic Startopia style curves at you, right from mission one.
The world already has really good wheels, so I’m very happy that I can play a Startopia game in 2021 that a) has a pretty bio deck for me to terraform, b) has gray aliens that wander around and sometimes go up in a disco dance, and c) works the infinitely usable “AI companion is a robot that hates meatsack people” schtick without, as I feared, trying really hard to be a comedy game.
Spacebase Startopia is not here to rock your world. It is here to gently wrap a friendly arm around you. It’s a game that does exactly what it needs to do, and does it well. I can take off my rose-colored glasses and offer it an assured salute in Han Solo style.