Review: Darwinia+ (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Darwinia+
Developer: Introversion Software
Publisher: Introversion Software
Genre: Tactical/Real-Time Strategy
Release date: 02/11/2010

If you’re a PC gamer, then you’ve probably heard of Introversion Software’s 2005 cult classic Darwinia, but if you’ve not you’re probably looking at the screenshots and wondering why on earth a five year old PC game would interest the average Xbox 360 gamer. Well, for starters, this isn’t just a port of the original game; there’s also a copy of 2008’s Multiwinia to boot, and the original game has been fine tuned and tweaked. Darwinia is one of those games that it’s hard to explain the attraction of, but once you start to play it’s strangely addictive.

Darwinia’s story is nothing groundbreaking; a chap named Dr. Sepulveda has created a digital world full of inhabitants known as Darwinians. Sadly, a virus has made its way into the system, and the good doctor needs your help to save the world.

Artistically, the deliberate 80’s style graphical approach meshes perfectly with the game’s wonderfully atmospheric 8-bit soundtrack, provided by the excellent Trash80. The sound effects used really immerse you in Darwinia’s digital world and add to the experience. There is some slowdown when the screen gets busy, but it doesn’t distract too much from the game. The fixed camera can be cumbersome at times, one drawback on this port compared to the free floating camera used on the PC original.

Although the real time strategy genre normally translates poorly to consoles, Introvision have done a good job of keeping things simple. A dual stick control system is used for controlling combat units: the left stick controls movement, the right fires your weapon. Aiming is generally straightforward, but not entirely precise; the spider enemies are particularly tricky to hunt down. Selecting units and movements are handled with the A button.

If you’ve never played Darwinia before, there is a tutorial on hand to help show you the basic gameplay, but which doesn’t really go deep enough, which may dishearten new players who may find some of the objectives confusing. The gameplay itself is extremely straightforward; the main unit you’ll be utilising is the squad, which is used to fight the enemies on each stage and protect the rather useless Darwinians from any threats they may face. The engineer unit is used to reprogram buildings and collect souls from beaten enemies to be resurrected as Darwinians.

You don’t actually get to control the lemming like Darwinians; merely set paths to safety for them to follow. They don’t always follow instructions to the letter, which you’d think wouldn’t be hard to correct on the move to consoles.

As you play through the stages of the game, you’ll uncover more of Dr Sepulveda’s research which gives your units new abilities to help you in the more difficult later levels. While there are only a handful of levels; it can take up to an hour to complete some of the final stages.

Multiwinia continues the plot (which I won’t spoil), but moves the story further into the future. The online play is a lot faster paced and more frenetic, with games tending to be short with few lulls in the action. Multiplayer modes offer staples like King of the Hill, Domination, and the capture the flag-esque Capture the Statue, which sees you using the Darwinians to drag a huge statue back to your base.

Multiwinia also has a single player mode, which is a fair bit more difficult than that of Darwinia, but the practice this gives you can be invaluable when you venture online. The strategy elements have been removed from Multiwinia, with a pure focus on combat. Power ups like airstrikes and nukes are dropped in crates, with the first player to pick them up getting the advantage, or in some cases disadvantage, they provide.

Once you’ve finished the single player element of Darwinia, there really isn’t much replay value. Thankfully Multiwinia has enough to keep you going as long as you can manage. It may not be the most original title ever, being a port of two fairly old PC games, but for those who haven’t played the originals, this is a title well worth the 1200 MSP cost. The addictiveness of the strange strategy/action hybrid game play puts Darwinia+ firmly at the top of the list of recommended Live Arcade games. It is, however, somewhat of a niche game that some may turn their noses up at, so if you are unsure, download the trial first.

The Scores
Story/Modes Rating: Decent
Graphics Rating: Good
Sound Rating: Great
Control and Gameplay Rating: Good
Replayability Rating: Very Good
Balance Rating: Enjoyable
Originality Rating: Below Average
Addictiveness Rating: Very Good
Appeal Factor Rating: Enjoyable
Miscellaneous Rating: Enjoyable
FINAL SCORE: ENJOYABLE GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
Darwinia+ is totally different from most titles offered by Live Arcade, and in this case that’s a good thing. Individually lacking that “Ëœmust buy’ status, the combination of the two games works perfectly and is highly recommended.

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