Spacebase Startopia – Cashing in on Nostalgia or Honest Homage?

Every now and then, I check up on games that sparked my interest but that I hadn’t thought of for a bit to see how things are progressing. When I first heard of Spacebase Startopia back in August of last year, it inspired me to revisit the original, but I really didn’t do a whole lot of research. I guess I just assumed that it was being remade by someone like Nightdive Studios that likes to update classic games for modern audiences.

My first clue that maybe my intuition was way the hell off was checking Spacebase Startopia’s Steam page today and seeing this:

Now, I get that I am cheap, but that’s quite a price hike for a rework of a game that wasn’t particularly commercially successful 20 years ago. Unsurprisingly, I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.

That’s when I fell into the rabbit hole.

Apparently, Spacebase Startopia is only “inspired by” the 2001 space station simulator of a remarkably similar name, but they’re definitely pushing it hard in the marketing materials. Sure, the AI that guides you is still called VAL, but that’s an acronym anyway, and the voice in the new game is female, so obviously that’s totally different. The aliens who visit you have slightly altered models, and a little bit different names, but even a recent RPS preview article seems to imply that if you’re a fan of the original, this feels in some ways like you grabbed the store brand by mistake.

I’ll be honest – for me the whole thing feels kind of icky. Moreso when I realized the publisher is Kalypso Media. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve liked plenty of games that they’ve published, but the last one I bought at anything approaching full price was Tropico 3 back in 2009, and I was already starting to find their DLC models tedious back then.

Obviously, the game isn’t done yet – although you can pre-order for immediate beta access, the official release date is still a few months off. However, even without the … shall we call them questionable … marketing decisions, there’s nothing there that would inspire me to drop $50 on a 10-mission campaign.

However, for die hard fans of the cult classic original, there is a slim hope yet. Recently, the trademark for plain old Startopia was transferred over to My Little Planet, LTD, which is owned by one of the original developers of Startopia. There’s a shiny new Startopia website, with resources for the original game as well as some silly merch you can pick up if you’re so inclined. There’s also a recently started Twitter (although as of the time I’m writing this, there have been no Tweets).

Sure, my detective skills are mediocre at best, but I wouldn’t rule out something else happening with the IP – maybe something that might capitalize on the failure of an overpriced game trying to pretend it’s something it’s not, where the graphics are pretty, but the concepts are blatantly ripped off? Either way, my little investigation has led me to the conclusion that Spacebase Startopia doesn’t even belong on my “maybe when it hits 75% off” list.

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