By: Mike Chen
Cult hit Kerbal Space Program has made the trek from PC to the console world. There’s just one problem, though. Rather than adapting to the pros and cons of console platforms, this port brings it over exactly, including its presentation and control scheme. That’s a problem.
Kerbal Space Program was designed and developed for a mouse and keyboard interface. Its menu-intensive construction and design phase is all controlled via a cursor, while space flight uses menus, submenus and alternate buttons. And it’s not just a few menus; in the design/build phase, you have about a dozen primary menus, each with secondary menus, then the cursor is used for placement.
Translating that to a gamepad is a mess. The cursor is moved via the left analog or the Sixaxis sensors. Either way, it’s clearly not optimized for a port. There are many examples of menu-intensive systems working toward a gamepad user interface upon translation, and while those may be somewhat clunky, they’re still usable.
The problem with Kerbal Space Program is that it is literally a PC simulation game shoved into a console, and rather than adapting its controls to adapt to the new platform, it tosses it over the fence and expects the console user to adapt. You may as well be running a Steam emulator on your PS4.
Kerbal Space Program uses most of its processing power emulating physics, not graphics. That means that models, menus and environments could have been Steam games from a decade ago and it would have looked the same. Of course, many digital games don’t push the graphical envelope, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
However, the issue here is presentation. You know how most websites now have mobile versions that adapt to be your phone’s screen? But then there’s the odd website that doesn’t do that and gives you a weirdly scaled down version on your phone. That’s the issue with Kerbal Space Program.
Playing on a 46-inch TV and sitting about 10 feet away on a sofa, I literally could not read any of the menus in the design face due to the small font. Like the controls, it’s another lack of care for a platform port — the menus, which make up the bulk of the interface, are unreadable unless you’re sitting close to the screen.
This is fine for a PC gaming environment where you’re sitting in front of a laptop or at a desk with a monitor, but it’s impossible in a living room without using the PS4’s zoom feature to death. It’s simply a lack of care for a platform’s audience, which makes Kerbal Space Program a lazy port.
Kerbal Space Program has a cult following on PC, and it’s clear why as this is a detailed build sim mixed with a flight sim — this mix of design-and-play gameplay is reminiscent of the model from old theme park sim games.
As part of NASA equivalent for a budding civilization of cute aliens, your goal is to design a spacecraft, launch it and get it into orbit. This allows creative and engineering thinking, allowing you to go with purely functional to wild ideas.
This comes with very little hand holding, making for a steep learning curve. The problem is that to get over that curve, you need to deal with the control and graphical issues stated above. There is a reward after the hump, as the detailed sim and quirky sense of humor will appeal to those that want layered ingenuity in their gameplay.
Since this PC port never adapted to its new platform’s specifics, however, it becomes an exercise in futility. At some point, one will wonder why they didn’t just buy it for PC and skip the headaches.
Buried beneath Kerbal Space Program’s PC-centric presentation and controls is a detailed and involving sim with a sense of humor. But there’s no point in buying it for consoles given the port difficulties involved.