App Reviewed on: iPad Air 2
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Star Billions is a sort of sci-fi visual novel that initially released on the App Store back in 2015. In that initial release was an interesting start to a story about anthropomorphic AIs adventuring in space, and a promise that more “seasons” of the game would be released to finish the story. Fast-forward to 2017, and Star Billions's third and final season finally came out. While Star Billions may not have some of the best mechanics, it's still a game that has so much heart and charm that it's hard not to fall in love with.
In Star Billions, you stumble into a space adventure by opening a mysterious Stargazer app on your phone. This app somehow connects you to the a spacefaring vessel called the Little Brother, which is piloted by four AI crew members. Once you connect with them, they rely on you to help them make decisions as they attempt to carry out their quest to find a new planet suitable for humankind.
For the most part, this action is doled out in typical visual novel style, with character portraits and dialogue boxes that you tap through to move things forward. Since you're dealing with AI constructs, these characters are all portrayed as animals. EIN, ROSIE, SARGE, and LACIE are the Little Brother's AI crew and they are represented as an eagle, cat, dog, and sheep respectively. At certain points during the narrative, each member of this group will propose an idea on how to move forward, and it's up to you to choose who to move forward with.
Paws the action
Something to note about Star Billions is that it's not a game intended to be played all at once. In fact, it's intentionally designed to stretch out the time between your play sessions. Once you finish a small chunk of story (typically where you've just made a really big decision), Star Billions enters a Standby Mode that displays a countdown timer for when you'll be able to resume the action. This timer can be as short as ten minutes, but can also get as long as six hours or more.
To be clear, this isn't some free-to-play scheme where you can pay to move forward immediately. Your only hope for moving things along more quickly are to play some mini-games that can take small chunks of time off of your total wait time. These mini-games aren't particularly sophisticated or fun either, so most of the time you're better off just waiting instead of trying to power through.
Playing the mini-games just feels like a way to circumvent Star Billions's pacing, which I wouldn't recommend. By providing these timers, the narrative feels a lot more like it's moving in real-time and like things are happening in its world when you don't have the game open on your phone. It's an interesting approach that can occasionally feel annoying, but it ultimately helps pace out the story so that you can actually be left hanging by cliffhangers instead of just plowing through them.
A shining star
Star Billions is pretty light on mechanics, and its timer system can be divisive, but it's a game that sticks with you because of how clever and well-written it is. Although Season One starts with some pretty archetypical characters and standard structure, it ends up taking a lot of creative chances as it moves forward in ways that are unexpected but utterly delightful.
Although Star Billions doesn't quite stick the landing on its ending, the journey is so good that it hardly matters. By the end, you care about pretty much every character in the game in ways that you typically don't for other video game characters. So much happens to them. Story arcs ebb and flow, scenes take dramatic tonal shifts, and characters have moments of self-reflection in hilarious--and also occasionally touching--ways. It's something special that you really need to play through and experience yourself.
The bottom line
There are certainly things about Star Billions that aren't great. It's structure with the timers and mini-games isn't ideal if you're looking for a game to plow through or simply play at your convenience. But, if you can stick through that stuff, you're in for a real treat. Star Billions tells an amazingly heartfelt story that you don't often find in video games.