Galacticare review: a silly space sim in the Bullfrog tradition, with a great sense of humour

By admin May26,2024

Wacky space station management sim Startopia and wacky hosptial sim Theme Hospital are two of my favourite older games, so I was very pleased with the concept of Galacticare, which is a wacky space station hospital management sim. And you know what? It’s great! From early reveals and previews I thought it might veer into being too wacky, but it nails its tone, has some really striking levels, and bugs in earlier builds have been squashed (much as you can manually splat small parasites that make their way into your hospital). I can see this becoming a go-to comfort game for me.

All that said, the reason it makes a good comfort game is that you can master a reliable formula for building a good hospital by about the second level, and rarely need to deviate from this. There are times, especially in some of the less stand-out levels, where this verges into becoming boring. The writing works hard, but there are, by necessity, large sections where nobody is talking to you. The punishment for building a good hospital is sitting and watching it run successfully while you wait to hit the next plot milestone.

I’m getting ahead of myself here, though, which is not really something you’d want from a medical practitioner. In Galacticare you’re the hospital director of the titular medical company, tasked with running hospitals as private contractors for various alien businesses. You plop down rooms to satisfy various health and wellness needs, balance your spending against your income, and try not to kill too many people. “I private health contractor?” I hear you cry. “Why that could never result in poor outcomes for patients!”. Well luckily this is a video game, and in Galacticare terrible risk to life and limb is all just a part of getting treated, because in the grand tradition of Theme Hospital et al., the machines and illnesses are all on a sliding scale of terrifying.

This feature is something Galacticare absolutely nails. The Bone Lab, for example, is a huge machine that’s part dog, part American Football helmet, which mulches up broken bones and 3D prints new ones right into the patient. Projectile Medicine requires a long room because it houses a machine that shoots medical amunition at patients. Also in pleasing puns is the Parasitology treatment room, where the treatment machine is a bio-mechanical hybrid octopus doctor, or doctopus, to remove parasites. Patients will turn up having space terrors, with tentacles wriggling out of their heads, covered in green slime, or looking like they’re made of lava. They’re all wonderfully animated, and it’s fun to sit and watch a new treatment machine for a bit when you first unlock it, or follow around a new type of alien patient to see what it looks like when they sit down all weird and alien-y.

a zoomed out view of a hospital in Galacticare, with a giant plant in the background
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Cult Games

An info screen about one of the alien species in Galacticare

A treatment room in Galacticare where a psychic space clam reads the patient's mind

Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Cult Games

There are a lot of different types of aliens, as well, and they have slightly different needs that you can address when building your hospital, akin to making sure the biodeck in Startopia has different types of plants to make everyone happy. The Tenki are happy little chaps akin to capuchin monkeys by way of engineers, so they love your rooms to be upgraded with machines that make your doctors more efficient or learn more quickly. My favourite are the Kouber Baly, who are the massive unit species. They walk on their hands and use their prehensile feet as, well, their hands, and because they’re bigger than your average bear they prefer corridors and rooms to be wide, and hospital congestion to be low.

These kinds of considerations are a nice wrinkle that comes up when you’re planning your hospital. If there’s a level with no Kuober Baly, vs. one that is going to be a lot of them, the layouts will end up being quite different. You can also make good use of teleport pads, and think about where you’re putting down your reception desks. You end up actually thinking like a town planner much more than you did in Theme Hospital or even Two Point Hospital. And that’s not even adding in the traits of your doctors, which can include good traits like not needing to take as many breaks, or proper bad ones like embezzling or hurting patients on purpose.

Galacticare does make itself very easy to parse, despite all these variables, and it’s pretty easy to see when a room has a big queue, or check on why you’re not dinging that fourth star on your hospital rating (it’s probably seating or vending machine coverage, those are biggies). Still, even with all the things that could be going on, if you thrown down at least two reception desks and two diagnosis rooms early on, you’re not going to run into many problems for a while. It’s a shame to press fastforward on Galacticare, because you miss so many of the nice animations, but it’s something you’ll end up doing loads.

Consultant Twiggy Pop working in Galacticare
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Cult Games

It does do well with the levels, though. Each story level has a great hook that plays with the space setting. One early one sees you treating acts at a sort of intergalactic Fyre Fest, and then you enter a giant (and I mean giant) vegetable-growing competition, while later on you start a hospital in a prison where every patient and doctor is a clone of an evil scientist. Many of these have some huge, evolving backdrop, as the festival moon explodes or your huge marrow grows bigger and bigger, floating in space next to your hospital, and they’re engaging and variously delightful, while offering different challenges. One is set in a train station, for example, and is very narrow.

It’s all narrated by HEAL, your slightly grumpy AI computer helper, and Medi, the plucky sidekick Medibot, an avatar of the little robots who go around cleaning and fixing your hospital, and they are both genuinely very funny, but not in an obtrusive way that is annoying. It’s a tough thing to pull off, and I think Brightrock Games have done uncommonly well. I don’t think it’ll convert anyone who doesn’t like the genre – in many ways it’s a love letter to games that have already gone, rather than a wheel reinvention – but it’s done some very fun things. If this sort of management game is your jam, then Galacticare will go very well on your toast.

This review is based on a copy of the game provided by the publisher.

By admin

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