Portable take on the rocket science sim
For the mobile gamer not aware of the awesome indie PC sensation Kerbal Space Program, seeing SimpleRockets up in the App Store charts will be a huge surprise. Only last month I found out about Kerbal as a very popular game on Steam for Mac — it was only when I started watching some YouTubers playing when I realised the magnitude of this phenomenon.
To give you a quick idea, this game caters to people interested in designing rockets, flying them until they crash so you have an excuse to design a better rocket and try again. Unlike other vehicle-building games such as Bag Piggies, Kerbal Space Program (KSP) expects you to fly your craft taking into consideration gravity forces, fuel consumption and the math necessary to orbit around planets and travel through space. It doesn't sound very interesting if I say it like this, but believe me: this thing is big. Big enough to push the humble clone SimpleRockets to the top of the App Store charts.
The same way Minecraft has inspired a lot of game developers to adapt, replicate or try to improve the formula on iOS, SimpleRockets by Jundroo appears to be the be the first Kerbal clone you can play on the iPhone. Let me clarify the use of the word clone here doesn't have a bad connotation. The game copies the basic ideas and mechanics with nothing original and that's fine. SimpleRockets tries to please those wanting to play KSP on mobile so this should make them happy.
A good intro to ship design
I haven't played Kerbal myself although I might have spent hours watching people playing it on Twitch. This isn't a problem for you to enjoy SimpleRockets: the game has a tutorial that teaches you some basics before you go into the sandbox mode. The common start is the drawing board, the place where you design your spaceship. In a very basic 2D interface you drag items from a limited list of components such as fuel deposits or engines. Once your basic layout is completed order the stages. This is the way you control when you drop parts of your rocket that are not necessary anymore, like an empty fuel deposit that will only add more weight for your trips in space. Even if you don't know anything about spaceships, you have seen how the Space Shuttle launches with some huge orange deposits and comes back to Earth looking like a plane.
Once your ship is designed on paper, it's time to put it to the test. The first iterations might fail, which is part of the fun. The game allows you to save designs but it could be nice to have a social element begin able to import from a shared folder or something. I would like to see a couple of default ships in there too.
Launching from Earth is complex at the beginning but as you keep trying the process will be an automated sequence you master like a memorised choreography. This is one of the things I couldn't understand about KSP — you actually learn how to fly these things efficiently through a lot of trial and error. The tutorial goes as far as getting you to reach the moon, or Smoon in SimpleRockets terms. Once you feel a bit confident and have a winner design for your rocket, you should go to the sandbox mode to attempt crazy things.
I've seen YouTubers assemble a whole space station orbiting around Earth with the constraints of Kerbal, SimpleRockets players are also managing incredible feats given the limitations of this iPhone game. The best place to discover these and learn from other players seems to be Reddit, which the developer recommends on its website. One of the more popular projects is to launch a rover mission to a planet and return to Smearth if possible. There are some very cool tips, designs and details screenshot galleries there.
We are not going to discuss how SimpleRockets is not very pretty or the 2D gameplay style has some limitations. The interface doesn't recognise the larger iPad display, giving you a scaled up version of the iPhone, which in turn is inherited from the Android version. The import thing here is how accessible, convenient and fun this is. SimpleRockets isn't a replacement but a gateway drug to this universe of rocket science. In fact the game credits Kerbal Space Program as "I wanted players to know where to go next if they wanted more rocket science goodness" according to the developer on VentureBeat.