Space trucking can be a lonely experience

Ever dial into a BBS in the early 90’s? The satisfying screech of your modem connecting and the subsequent trickle of text across your screen at a screaming 2400 baud? Then you most likely played the game Trade Wars. It was a text based game played against other users of the BBS where you buy and sell goods while travelling through space. Why do I bring this up? Because Star Shipping Inc. is Trade Wars with graphics …and no one else to play with.

Just like on Wall Street, the aim of the game is to buy low and sell high. You’re given a list of materials and prices on different planets and can figure out where you can buy something cheap and go elsewhere and sell it at a profit. You’ll repeat the process, stopping to refuel and sometimes fight off pirates or other threats. It may sound simple, but remember – this was a text game first.

You don’t take direct control of the ship, so the “fights” aren’t anything exciting. You’ll tap which planet you want to fly to, and if you encounter resistance along the way a slide pops up telling you what happened and you can tap “Fight, Flee, or Pay Up” to get yourself out of it. It’s not skill based in any way, but rather a raw numbers game.

Star Shipping Inc.

While the game felt instantly familiar to me since I spent many a night playing Trade Wars on the local BBS back in the day, I can’t say the formula has made the jump to 2010 particularly well. That’s not to say it couldn’t have, but since they took out one of the main components that made the game worth playing – other people – Star Shipping Inc. feels like a shadow of it’s inspiration. The thing that made Trade Wars really come alive was trying to outmaneuver and outdo other players.

Now why am I spending so much time talking about a game that’s not supposed to be the basis of the review? Well the main reason is that Star Shipping Inc. is quite obviously based on (or a copy of) it. The other reason is to highlight all the problems with the game by pointing out another title that did it correctly.

That’s not to say Star Shipping Inc. is bad – it really isn’t. The game is fun to play through and does a good job of encouraging players to come back. You’ll be scored on each play and gain credits you can spend in the in-game store to rent better ships to fly around or to buy better gear in game. You can also buy credits for real-life dollars, but asking me to do something like that for a game like this is borderline insulting.

As it stands, Star Shipping Inc. offers maybe an hour of enjoyment before the issues and lack of any other players gets to be too much. You can challenge a friend over Open Feint, but that’s a pale offering to playing with other human beings in the mix. It’s a shame too, because this is a game that could’ve easily been done with some cool push notifications between multiple players. Space is a lonely place, especially when you’re only task at hand is flying back and forth between planets buying and selling goods. That loneliness could have easily been avoided had they simple stuck closer to the formula of their inspiration.