++Review: Starbound

It’s taken me a while to get this review out the door (about a month… sheesh), but it’s because of two very real, very valid reasons. First, I got sucked into Animal Crossing New Leaf. I never thought this would ever happen, having hated the first one so much, and also having kept away from all subsequent Animal Crossing releases. Second, man is this game BIG. Starbound is the next level of progression in the Minecraft/Terraria style sandbox builder game, in that you take to space in order to explore multiple randomly generated planets, mining them for resources to establish a safe domicile from which to launch exploration campaigns, kill bosses, or just putz around and have a good time building things.

The unfortunate bit is that, much like Terraria subtly refuses to acknowledge the existence of Minecraft, Starbound subtly refuses to acknowledge the existence of Minecraft AND Terraria; and while this is a superficial issue at worst, it puts me in sort of the same position as A Link Between Worlds – there isn’t much to discuss that Terraria hasn’t already done, except with regard to detail, and I’m not one to excavate. So, it’s a short one.

That detail, however, is enough to distinguish Starbound, as well as catapult it well beyond its peers.

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Starbound [PC]
Developer: Chucklefish
Publisher: Chucklefish
Release: 12/04/2013
MSRP: $14.99 Early Access
Words: James Bacon

The formula is the same as it ever was: you start the game by digging holes and chopping trees down to acquire the materials you need to fashion tools and weapons in order to dig deeper to get different minerals to make different tools and weapons, etc,. etc. The difference here is the ease with which you’re able to dig. As a space person of varying species and sex (I chose a plant man, but you might want to go for the robo chick, I don’t know), you have access to a space tool which allows you to dig out more than one square at a time. As simple as this distinction is, it has huge implications. You can collect more resources at once, cutting down on the start-up time its cousins are typically known for. This is always a good design decision. Always. Something I found took a little getting used to was the mouse-look. You don’t face the direction you’re moving by default. Instead, your little dude will look and aim at the mouse cursor. This is a bit funky at first, but being able to run away from the deadly birdman cultist while you’re shooting at him is certainly a blessing.

The bigger difference is, obviously, your eventual space travel which opens the game right up. There are so many different kinds of planets with so many different kinds of native flora, fauna, bosses, violent natives, and exploration situations, it’s borderline absurd. Getting to the point where you can actually fuel your space-shuttle takes some doing (depending on the scarcity of resources in your area), and a bit of internet research (I couldn’t figure out what was going on with the engines on my own… using coal in what I thought was a fancy-pants space engine was clunky and counter intuitive, but such is life…), but once you do get there, zooming around the galaxy discovering new worlds is very satisfying. Let alone visiting them, creating outposts and exploring.

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This is a paid early access title on Steam, presently, and that might rub some of you the wrong way. I understand why you’d feel that way, really I do, but I typically allow independent studios a bit of wiggle room with regard for this sort of thing. They need money to finish the game, and they have a playable product… why not combine the two? I am less tolerant of this behavior with bigger studios who have, say, gone to Kickstarter to get funding and then under-delivered on the promised product who then use this method to secure more funds (they shall remain nameless, but I can think of two as I’m writing this). That isn’t the case here, though. Chucklefish is an honest lot, and what they have here is sufficient and satisfying. It’s worth every dime they’re asking.

In addition, some of the planned features for this game are going to change its direction significantly, and I’d advise you get on this horse early, so you can have this unadulterated exploration experience. There will be progression oriented missions, a focus on the acquisition of pixels (which can be found randomly on the ground for the time being, and they act as a universal currency), an endgame, and what’s being called “Sector X” PvP. This is a far cry from the game as it exists, today, and again, I encourage you to give the “bare bones” version a shot. It’s relaxing, and fun, and satisfying.

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Verdict – 8.5 (+Good): I’ve been having a really good time with Starbound, and I intend to chronicle the changes that come about through the completion of its development cycle in future reviews and updates, but if I were to say nothing else about the game in the future, and it changed nominally due to unforeseen circumstance, it’s still worth purchasing, as it sits.