If you played play FTL: Faster Than Light and thought, “This would make a great MMO” Pixel Starships by Savy Soda might be the Android game for you. Originally released for iOS, an early access Android port is now available on Google Play.
FTL’s influence is definitely felt in Pixel Starships, especially in the combat mechanics. Like in FTL, players assign crewmembers to manage different shipboard facilities. The battle interface is essentially a diagram of the two ships engaged in combat. Individual rooms can be targeted to disable systems and kill crewmembers. The difference is that Pixel Starships has the player switching between two different windows to look at each ship. While that was probably done to account for the smaller screen size, it made it difficult to keep track of everything going on.
Pixel Starships also allows the player to distribute power through different systems to boost their effectiveness. However, it didn’t feel nearly as vital as it did in FTL. It’s relatively easy to keep all systems fully powered which is good considering the power controls are extremely fickle.
In fact, I had several problems with the interface, especially whenever I needed to click and drag something. It’s not so much an issue of sensitivity as the game being fussy about what it considers a valid location. Still, that was a minor annoyance.
A much larger annoyance comes from how the ships are laid out. Unlike FTL, vessels in Pixel Starships have multiple decks connected by elevators. This slows down the player’s ability to repair disabled systems, especially if there is damage to multiple compartments. I suspect the elevators are intended to serve as something of a bottleneck, but it still feels like a way of artificially inflating the difficulty.
Lock, Load, Wait
I would have liked a bit more freedom in terms of equipment loadout. You can only build so many of each room, with the maximum number determined by the ship’s rank. A level 4 starship, for example, is allowed one shield, two lasers, one light cannon, one shield generator and one missile launcher. Lasers, missiles, and shields all take the same amount of space, so why can’t I forgo the second laser in favor of an extra shield generator? I realize this was probably done for the sake of balance, but you’re already limited by the amount of available space on each ship. If I don’t mind sacrificing a little offense for extra defense, then I should be allowed to make that call.
I’m also not fond of the upgrade system itself. It takes upwards of 40 minutes in real time to upgrade a room on your ship. This wouldn’t be a problem if the room weren’t rendered inoperable for the duration. It isn’t a big deal for some compartments, but temporarily losing a weapon or reactor puts you at a huge disadvantage in combat.
Luckily, players can speed things up using Starbux. Starbux—the game’s premium currency—can also be used to buy items and materials for upgrades. Watching an ad grants you 3 Starbux though more can be acquired through in-app purchases. The game also offers a subscription service that boosts mission and PvP rewards in exchange for a $4 monthly fee. Pixel Starships is balanced enough that I wouldn’t accuse it of being pay to win, but it’s definitely pay-to-expedite.
A Big Empty Galaxy
In addition to space combat, players can send crew members on ground missions, which randomly spawn as you play. These take the form of turn-based battles reminiscent of old school JRPGs. They are fun little side missions, but there is not much else to say about them. Space battles are the main draw and where much of the effort has clearly gone.
And that’s pretty much true of everything in the game. You can explore the galaxy, but it’s not as deep or satisfying as it could have been. The dialogue and lore are fun and cleverly written. However, the story is a somewhat generic search for the source of some mysterious space crystals and not worth the amount of grinding it takes to complete. Pixel Starships lives or dies based on its ship to ship combat. It’s very engaging ship to ship combat, but I’m not sure it’s enough to carry the game on its own.
I enjoyed my time with Pixel Starships, but I don’t think I can manage more than a lukewarm endorsement. It’s charming and enjoyable with a combat system that’s hard to dislike. Still, I had trouble maintaining my enthusiasm. Pixel Starships is a game to keep an eye on, but all it really did was make me wan to play FTL again.
Is it Hardcore?
Fun but not outstanding, Pixel Starships is an engaging experience that just doesn’t live up to expectations.