★★★★☆

Diminutive Japanese studio Kairosoft has carved out and then dominated a niche in recent years with its strategy games based on the worlds of football, grand prix racing and, er, video game development.

While the studio has a strong and vociferous following, it also has its detractors, many of whom argue its games offer little more than spreadsheet management experiences, Farmville-esque stat grinds that are palatable only thanks to the sprite art and engaging narrative themes.

Epic Astro Story is a powerful rebuttal to those accusations, grafting Kairosoft’s considerable understanding of obsession-forming number-crunching with Sim City-style world building.

You take control of a colony on some remote planet, building houses for those few inhabitants under your charge before sending them out to farm resources in nearby fields and to explore adjacent tiles on the map screen, thereby unlocking them for settlement.

The basic economy and technological progression systems are pure Game Dev Story as you accrue points to spend on researching new weapons, armour or farming technologies. But the new focus of the game is on planning and building your city, square by square, and it’s here that the world starts to feel uniquely yours.

As your reach into the world extends you happens across swamps and, later, snowfields, all of which require their own special technologies if they are to be turned into useful resources. Soon you’ll be mining iron and diamonds into order to fill your factories with designer goods as the arc of humanity’s progression reaches its dizzy/ bleak heights.

On top of the town planning and civilization-forming, you must tool up your explorer inhabitants with weapons and armour with which to defend themselves (battles play out automatically on screen, based on your team’s stats) and ensuring that your expeditions are properly equipped is crucial.

In time you must manage a burgeoning tourism industry and begin sending your people off to nearby planets to attract immigrant workers, even freeing other races from the tyranny of invaders (albeit via automated, Final Fantasy line dancing-style battles sequences).

It’s by far Kairosoft’s most ambitious project to date and the studio’s habit-forming play loops (which provide no natural exit points for players to put down the game) ensure that you will lose days to the game if you let it in.

However, Epic Astro Story is rough around the edges, with a somewhat clunky interface, pieces of translated text that cut off at the edge of their bounding boxes and some key unexplained mechanics.

But it’s also a game that sees its developer finding a new stride, introducing a level of player agency of freedom that has hitherto been missing from its output. For all its creases, this is a game of huge heart and ambition, combining disparate influences into a unique whole. An essential play for it.

Buy a copy of Epic Astro Story for iOS here and for Android here.