Remember how hard it was to beat computer games in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s? Just when you thought you were doing great on The Oregon Trail, your entire family would die of dysentery or some other floppy-disk catastrophe. Now, imagine what that gameplay would be like if it were set in the Star Trek universe, complete with old-school 8-bit computer graphics. You’ve just imagined a new web-based Star Trek game you can play right now, called, appropriately, Star Trek: Kobayashi Maru. In the new trailer for the game, George Takei calls it an “all you can eat buffet of pain.” He’s not wrong! The game is hard.
Free to play online, Star Trek: Kobayashi Maru has just been released from Scopely, the makers of the popular mobile game Star Trek: Fleet Command. To be clear, Kobayashi Maru is not an extension of Fleet Command. It’s web-based (not mobile) and, as is, intentionally retro, with simple graphics. It’s also not an action game. Instead, the decision-based gameplay is closer to those old Commodore or Apple games from yesteryear. It’s not quite like a game you would have gotten in 1982 when The Wrath of Khan first revealed Kobayashi Maru, but it is like a game that would have been created like 10 years later, maybe around the time of Star Trek’s 25th Anniversary in 1991.
The setting of the game is relatively generic and seems to be happening sometime in the 23rd Century era of Trek. By issuing various commands, you can recreate the “classic” no-win scenario pretty easily. All you have to do is remember the dialogue from The Wrath, specifically where Sulu steers the ship. (“Leaving Section Fourteen for Section Fifteen.”)
But, in the new game, doing what Sulu and Saavik did in The Wrath will not let you beat the game. Somewhat famously, the Kobayashi Maru isn’t supposedly unbeatable on purpose, making a video game version kind of a joke. (Even that trailer is messing around.) In The Wrath, it’s a “test of character.” In Star Trek 2009, Spock says the purpose of the test is to “experience fear.” Playing the new 8-bit game will probably not have you experiencing fear, nor will it build character. The game could, however, build perseverance. And that’s because Scopely claims there is a way to beat the game. It’s just that your odds are not good. According to the press release from Scopely: “With the odds of beating the Kobayashi Maru at around 1:10,000, the three fastest players to find the hack and defeat the simulation will win big prizes — including a CBS All-Access Lifetime Subscription and limited-edition Star Trek collectibles.”
So, essentially, the release of this game is less like the real Kobayashi Maru and more like the prologue to a real-life Trekkie version of Ready Player One. A secret solution to this deceptively simple 8-bit game is out there, but it’s going to take some old-school gamer dedication to find it. By making choices different than Saavik did in the movie, you’ll find that your ship will go to all sorts of different no-win scenarios. In one at least one alternate Kobayashi Maru, you’ll find yourself getting sick with an instantly deadly-space virus. In other versions, you’ll find tight-lipped officials on Starbases, refusing to tell you vital pieces of information.
If you’re not obsessed with winning, the variable no-win scenarios are actually probably the best part of the game. We tend to think of the Kobayashi Maru in The Wrath as the only real version of the test, but the TNG episode “Coming of Age,” and the Short Trek’s episode “Ask Not,” floated similarly unwinnable tests, but with entirely different contexts. The new 8-bit Kobayashi Maru doesn’t reference Wesley or Cadet Sidhu outright, but the different permutations seem like a nod in that direction.
Will anyone be able to beat it? In The Wrath (and Trek 2009) we learned that Kirk beat it by “reprogramming the simulation so it was possible to save the ship.” It seems unlikely that Scopely is encouraging hackers to actually break the game to win, so for now, it appears Kirk’s solution is off the table. How much 8-bit Trek-discouragement can you take? That’s the real test.
You can play the web-based version of Star Trek: Kobayashi Maru right here. It’s free!