Chuck­le­fish launches the block-con­struc­tion genre into or­bit


Star­bound is go­ing to be big. That’s a claim that can be made with some con­fi­dence: the game sat near the top of the Steam chart for weeks fol­low­ing its re­lease un­der the Early Ac­cess pro­gramme. It is a de­scen­dent of Minecraft – via, point­edly, Ter­raria – that shares all of its pre­de­ces­sors’ ca­pac­ity for vi­ral suc­cess. Play­ers mine blocks, go on ad­ven­tures, and build things: only here they do it in space, across ran­domly gen­er­ated worlds. The ran­domi­sa­tion of plan­ets and moons is the key to Star­bound’s po­ten­tial. Where its pre­de­ces­sors re­lied on Earthana­logue biomes to give each world va­ri­ety, Star­bound in­cludes all of these in dozens of alien vari­ants that dra­mat­i­cally al­ter the pro­file of each new ter­ri­tory you lay claim to. At the be­gin­ning of the game, your char­ac­ter’s ship runs out of fuel above an un­charted world. This could be a hos­tile desert planet with long, freez­ing nights that force you to build a shel­ter and hud­dle close to a fire, or a bizarre alien for­est where pul­sat­ing brains drip from ‘trees’ made of fleshy vines. You could end up on a per­fectly tem­per­ate for­est moon that has al­ready been set­tled, giv­ing you ready ac­cess to shops and shel­ter – if you don’t cause any trou­ble.

As in Minecraft or Ter­raria, your progress is mea­sured in the types of ma­te­ri­als you’re gath­er­ing and how far up the tech tree you’ve man­aged to climb. All plan­ets will in­clude min­er­als like iron, cop­per, sil­ver and gold in some pro­por­tion – but how much, and how dif­fi­cult they are to ex­tract, varies hugely. Like­wise, the di­verse colour scheme of plan­ets fur­nishes you with a much greater range of build­ing ma­te­ri­als than you would other­wise have. You might, for ex­am­ple, take a trip to a desert planet to stock up on the sand­stone you need to build a zig­gu­rat on a bar­ren moon.

The ran­dom gen­er­a­tion of plan­ets in­cludes just enough re­al­ity to give this 16bit-styled game sur­pris­ing fidelity. The colour of light is de­ter­mined by the hue of the near­est star, and if you look at the night sky you’ll see nearby plan­ets in the dis­tance. Then there are fac­tors like tem­per­a­ture and at­mos­phere that might re­quire you to build spe­cial equip­ment be­fore set­tling a new world. Ran­domi­sa­tion ex­tends to fauna, too: mon­sters are pro­ce­du­rally gen­er­ated based on the biome of the world they in­habit, and can be docile or deadly. Learn­ing which an­i­mals are safe to hunt for food and which need to be avoided is key.

Your progress is guided by a quest sys­tem that in­di­cates the next key item you need to build to progress. At spe­cific points you progress onto the next ‘tier’, grant­ing ac­cess to new ar­eas of space and some­times trig­ger­ing boss bat­tles or other en­coun­ters.

If there’s a weak­ness to this ran­domi­sa­tion, it’s that the game can some­times fail to co­here vis­ually. In­di­vid­ual sprites are for the most part at­trac­tive and well-de­signed, and the num­ber of de­tailed an­i­ma­tions is sur­pris­ing for a game of Star­bound’s scope. But that won’t stop brightyel­low acid-spit­ting birds from roam­ing the green skies of a planet cov­ered in dense pink roses. This oc­ca­sional in­co­her­ence, though, is part of Star­bound’s charm – it’s not the game it­self that is gar­ish, but the world you’ve dis­cov­ered. It’s an­other ex­pe­ri­ence to share.

The game is al­ready sub­stan­tial in its beta form, al­though in­sta­bil­ity and reg­u­lar patches, some of which re­set your progress, make it dif­fi­cult to get at­tached to a char­ac­ter. That’s a shame be­cause it’s a game that will fos­ter at­tach­ment. The draw of the next planet is pow­er­ful, and the de­vel­op­ers claim that there are more than 12 quadrillion po­ten­tial plan­ets to dis­cover. That’s why it’s easy to say that Star­bound will be big: it al­ready is.

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