Review – Next Space Rebels
There’s a burgeoning itch in this world to become famous and recognized by any means necessary. Before I turn into an old man on a porch, let me be clear: I’m not dissuading or judging people who take to social media as part of their hobby, their livelihood, or even their education. The potential for connections and the sharing of experiences and information across the globe is a fantastic thing. In the pursuit of trying to reach out to people by the thousands or millions, we’ve made great roadways to crafting a theoretically great new future.
However, there is the very real truth that, for every person who makes it big on YouTube, Instagram, or TikTok, there are literally tens of millions of viewers and content creators who never achieve more than passing recognition, if that. People need to make sure they temper their expectations before taking to the social media streets to show off their talent or looks, because, otherwise, the reality is grim, crushing and possibly something far worse.
With that incredibly ominous introduction, let’s take a look at the newest release from one of the most prolific publishers of 2021, Humble Games, Next Space Rebels. Developed by Studio Floris Kaayk, Next Space Rebels puts you in the shoes of a would-be rocketeer, a simple entity with dreams of shooting a homemade rocket up into the lower atmosphere and beyond. Inspired by some of your favorite StarTube stars, you finally get the courage and ideas to design rockets of your own and upload them for the world to see. As you move forward with newer and more innovative designs, your path begins to take shape.
There are those who want to make sure that the rocket building business is a lucrative one, seeking partnerships and sponsors to ensure that each rocket is branded by a great name to increase sales. There are those who are outfitted with radical ideas about keeping space free and neutral, by any means necessary. At the center of it all are the creators and designers, and those with a passion simply to make, regardless of the audience. Will you take up with the rogues and fight for the right to blast off independently? Or will you see the support and safety of a larger corporation, because capitalism can help in the right hands? The future, ultimately, is up to you.
Next Space Rebels is an odd hybrid of a game, combining rocket construction and design with a sort of visual novel approach. The only way to make advancements within the storyline is to do rocket challenges, which are issued by any number of factions, be they curious fans, firework companies or even slightly unhinged amateur fuel makers. You have a free floating grid system that gradually becomes more complicated as you unlock more features, allowing you almost total artistic freedom to craft a rocket however you’d like, regardless of the actual success.
Beginning with simple tools like single sugar fuel boosters and basic nose cones, your choices with your interactions via StarTube shape how your subsequent rockets will look and perform. Deciding to throw in with the recycling crowd will give you plenty of trash to work with (sometimes lightweight, often unwieldy, always interesting). But partnering with the DYI groups means more access to module choices, crafting rockets that are sturdier and look more like actual rockets, though at a cose. The sky really is the limit with these rockets: the more you unlock, the more you can make a gorgeous missile or a truly absurd abomination that shouldn’t fly but somehow does.
The rocket building aspect of Next Space Rebels is both elegant and genius. The blueprint space allows for easy manipulation of any and all parts you get, and the whole system is very intuitive. Simply drag and drop whatever you’d like wherever you’d like, and the game will only limit you if there are free-floating parts. Once everything is in place, tapping the “Build” button means a sped-up montage of the rocket coming together, followed by the launch of the rocket itself, which is SUCH a trip. Floris Kaayk has some kind of magical properties in place to make it look like your rocket is being filmed on a home camcorder, and the physics and results are fantastic to see.
Not only is the visual aspect striking, but the presentation then makes you genuinely excited for it to succeed. By tying it to a real-world appearance, I’m invested in making sure my rocket takes off, whether I’m trying to reach an altitude record or knock over a porta-potty, which is a real mission that I celebrated in succeeding. The replay value here, alone, would have made Next Space Rebels a replayable, unending joy, just setting up the most wild combos of munitions, trash and toys and seeing what the hell I can send into lower orbit today.
However, the secondary aspect of Next Space Rebels drags down the game, occasionally brings it to a screeching halt, and also deeply, deeply disturbs me. By needing to constantly rely on your StarTube ratings to progress, choices need to be made within the game. On the slog side of things, needing to keep talking to everyone in the chat windows between takes is a bore, even with the text set to Instant speed.
Everyone needs to throw in their two cents about what THEY think is right for rockets on StarTube, and people can get pretty sanctimonious further on when we start to draw parallels with the in game equivalencies of billionaires trying to claim space. If you’re of that mindset and like a good dose of soapboxing, fantastic, they’ve got that for you here. If you’re not interested, it’s a little harder to avoid, and you’re made to feel dirty for wanting to just take monetization payouts to keep building rockets and moving forward.
The disturbing part of Next Space Rebels comes in the Toy route. Very early on, you get a teddy bear from some kid, and he asks you to make it into a rocket. If you consent and move forward, you begin getting more toys from him and you’ll see that your views go up, as well as your subscriber count. After a quick warning from a fellow StarTube user, the kid who sent you the teddy bear will suggest messaging kids in the comment sections. At which point, you can and do, and they will send you more toys. That totally normal thing of an adult on social media direct messaging minors to have them send you things for free.
I get that it’s a game, and that you can only do pre-fabricated messages, but holy ghost of SVU, this is such a messed up path within the game. One girl even says she’ll only send you something if you tell her she’s pretty, and there’s no option to not do that, just doing it to varying degrees. Even if we assume for a moment that no child is dumb enough to play this game and think that it’s a smart idea, WHY IS IT EVEN A THING? We could have easily partnered with toy companies or something directly, but no: you gotta get your sea legs by sliding into tween DMs and begging for goods. Yes, it’s optional, you don’t need to become a toy builder. But it’s a choice, and it’s totally normalized, at least until the point where I decided NOT to see how far it went.
Next Star Rebels is an ugly but necessary forced marriage between two warring factions in order to preserve the whole. If you only had a rocket building game without the context as to the how or why items are introduced, you’d get a visually impressive but somewhat pointless game. Kerbal Space Program is more for the hardcore creators, and Next Space Rebels is for those of us with no great bearing on physics or angles, but are willing to learn through trial and error.
The entire StarTube and chat system is a painful, monotonous and creepy walk, but it gives you meat around the bones of the game, and it does create challenges, risks/rewards and the potential for different ways to move forward. You can, essentially, roleplay as different kinds of rocket builders to see which is the best path for you to move into the stars.
If the developers could kindly modify this unsettling mote in the game, it would be more palatable and go down smoother, and that seems totally doable. Until that time, though, Next Space Rebels should only be played by adults with a good understanding of netiquette. Impressionable kids can be shown the videos of your awesome rockets (and even design their own!) but should let someone else navigate the between parts. Stay safe out there.
Unbelievably cool simulations of home rocket launching are jaw dropping and addictingly fascinating.
Building rockets: awesome!
Instant messaging corporations: boring!
Begging kids for stuff: what?
Some decent yet forgettable background ambience during building, but great rocket sounds and explosions.
It’s possible to overlook the implications and just rock the rockets, but you’ll often get bored with always needing to chat to progress.
Final Verdict: 8.0
Next Space Rebels is available now on Steam and the Humble Store.
Reviewed on PC.
A copy of Next Space Rebels was provided by the publisher.