Makes No Attempt to Hide its Kerbal Space Program Inspiration
Occupying the sub €10 price bracket, SimpleRockets is the first game released by Jundroo LLC on Steam. It’s a badge-wearing simplification of Kerbal Space Program (KSP for short) for those who either don’t have the computing power or time to get into KSP. Is that a blessing, or a curse?
Besieged Space Program
There are two games that SimpleRocket instantly bring to mind – Besieged and the aforementioned KSP. The connotations to the latter are obvious, but the link to Besieged is one not discovered until the game is launched.
There are 18 very specific challenges to work through, all requiring a different approach to rocket construction. Much like Besieged, this doesn’t always mean 'build the best rocket possible' – rather it usually encourages the player to create a very flawed rocket that excels in one particular area.
While this may be a little annoying for those that want to skip straight to building a complex and near-to-life rocket (although the challenges can be ignored or completed in any order), for those who aren’t looking for such a specific experience, the challenges will present some fun scenarios, and do a good job of forcing them to use the different parts available.
Challenges range from the predictable, such as ‘achieve orbit with your rocket’ to the more fun and outside-the-box ‘design a rocket that reaches a certain speed before a certain height’ and ‘design a rocket that can fly 50km without going higher than 5km.’
Release Date: 03/06/2015
Available on: Windows, PC Download
Play the Game
Merely a KSP Tutorial?
Given the developer’s own statement on Steam that this is aimed specifically at being a simpler KSP, there’s a very real danger that this game becomes nothing more than a forgotten starter before a Beef Wellington main course.
There’s only two planes to worry about in SimpleRockets (x and y) whereas KSP has three (which is where most of the complexity comes from), and there are considerably fewer parts to choose from when building a rocket.
That being said, SimpleRockets can itself become rewardingly complex – there are challenges that involve docking with satellites and landing on the moon, or achieving orbit around a distant planet. Rockets have stages, allowing for components to be detached when they’re no longer of any use, which greatly enhances the depth of design.
What does rankle a little is that SimpleRockets also plays up the idea of the spectacular failure – something which some players of KSP enjoy more than success – even though in this game it’s nowhere near as fun. There’s no little Kerbal or other animal-humanoid hybrid sitting in the command pod. The physics engine is nowhere near as detailed or refined – so all that comes from a crash is a poorly animated explosion.
Building is the Game
In another similarity to Besieged, building is where the player will spend most of their time. In contrast, though, building is the best part of SimpleRockets – because the actual flying is bland and borderline boring – especially given the amount of time it takes for a rocket to get out of the atmosphere. There are controls to increase the game speed, but using these will quite often result in something catastrophic happening with little or no time to react to it.
The interface in this aspect is very touch device friendly; lots of big, blocky buttons and a very basic design. Steering is controlled by two big arrows (or the arrow keys on the keyboard) which need to be tapped and constantly corrected. Thrust has a simple on-screen throttle. Playing on PC, it felt like playing an iOS or Android port (the game is also available on Google’s Play store). This is a common theme throughout the entire game – from the main menu to the ship builder.
It’s not until the challenges move on to docking and landing on the moon that the actual gameplay becomes more rewarding. There was a surprising amount of jubilation and feeling of achievement upon successfully docking for the first time – especially as it had required several complete redesigns and multiple attempts.
The building process itself is very similar to Besieged – it’s very modular and there’s no restriction on which parts can be used, how much fuel can be carried or how many engines can be attached – outside of basic mechanical requirements, such as an engine needs to be connected to a fuel tank in order for it to work, and the engines need to be powerful enough to lift the weight of the rocket off the ground.
There are a couple of cosmetic features for those looking to freshen up the look of the game – rocket skins and a minature solar system. The rocket skins change the look of all component parts, using themes such as the comic book style ‘guardian’ and the Star Trek like ‘angel.’ Setting off from a different planet will change parameters a little, as each planet has a different gravity and more or less atmosphere to blast through.
The developer set a very straightforward target for themselves – make a game like KSP, only simpler. They’ve absolutely achieved that. Whether it’s worth the asking price is another matter. As someone who’s not really into this genre but found Besieged a surprising amount of fun, I’m not so sure. If your device can’t run KSP, it may be worth a look – otherwise you’ll get more value from investing time into KSP.