Available On: Windows PC, Mac, Linux, PlayStation 4

There are plenty of fun sci-fi and space-themed games out there. But precious few are grounded in realistic physics. Kerbal Space Program is as much a full on NASA-simulator as a game. It nicely uses the scientific method to keep you tweaking your journey toward galactic discovery.

Kerbin, We Have a Problem

Kerbal Space Program is a deceptively dense game hiding behind the cute green Kerbals that populate this space-age world. In Career mode you’re given a basic NASA-like facility. Buildings include Vehicle Assembly, Tracking Station, Mission Control, and a launch site that’s little more than a slab of concrete.

Money is earned by accepting various missions, such as providing an orbital touring service, testing out new engine parts, and reaching the Mun. You can earn Science credits by succeeding in missions and using certain devices. Science is spent on a tech tree that unlocks advanced parts and components.

kerbal space program

The low-res visuals and squeaky, wide-eyed Kerbals help alleviate the heavy gameplay. Lengthy tutorials are available. I had to play some of them multiple times to fully grasp the more advanced concepts. Building a single engine rocket that barely makes it a stone’s throw in the air is easy enough. Calibrating heat dispensation, aerial trajectory, and fuel storage for long-term orbital flights and beyond made me wish I paid more attention in science class.

A bunch of scenarios provide interesting challenges to work through, like returning a Kerbal from the Mun safely. There’s a ton of gameplay and replay value packed in. But in the end, it’s all about the rockets.

I’m A Rocket Man

Even if you’ve never built a homemade rocket, the appeal of slapping various explosive devices together is instantly satisfying. The heart of Kerbal Space Program lies in the Vehicle Assembly Building.

kerbal space program

The builder is intuitive and fun to snap together, reminding me of the spaceship builder from Spore. Unlike Spore, you need to take heed of where all your parts go, and how your ship will steer. Decouplers eliminate empty engines and spare parts. Engines can be tweaked to carry a certain amount of fuel. Each device is activated through a staging sequence by pressing the spacebar before and during flight. Stages can be reordered for the desired effect. Activating too many engines at once can be a bad, bad thing.

My favorite aspect of the game was building together different rocket designs and blasting off. Sometimes they missed their mark, floating down into the water on a parachute. Other times they whirled around violently before exploding.

Thankfully you can revert to the launch, or back to Vehicle Assembly with a few button presses without any penalty. Breaching the atmosphere on a rocket you designed yourself is pure magic. Next is orbital flight, then the Mun and beyond. Kerbal Space Program creates a well-paced carrot on a stick (or stars in the sky) to keep shooting for.

The Rating

Kerbal Space Program has been rated E for Everyone by the ESRB. There’s no violence or objectionable content. Technically you do lose any pilots if your rocket explodes, but it’s never shown. Kerbal Space Program is age-appropriate for any kids interested in science, but especially space and physics. It’s complex enough that younger kids will definitely need a parent – and practically a physicist at that.

kerbal space program

The Takeaway

The soft music and cheery Kerbals help keep you calm, even when one minor mistake causes catastrophic results. As complex as the science gets, Kerbal Space Program desperately wants you to succeed. For once you’re not racing toward galactic conquest or defending against alien invaders. You’re reveling in the simple joy of applied learning and scientific discovery. For Science!

This article was written by

Eric has been writing for over nine years with bylines at Dicebreaker, Pixelkin, Polygon, PC Gamer, Tabletop Gaming magazine, and more covering movies, TV shows, video games, tabletop games, and tech. He reviews and live streams D&D adventures every week on his YouTube channel. He also makes a mean tuna quesadilla.