Review: Eufloria (Sony PS3)

Eufloria
Publisher: Omni Systems
Developer: Omni Systems
Genre: Real Time Strategy
Release Date: 10/04/2011

It’s not every day that PSN gets an artsy independent game, let alone one that’s also an RTS. This intrigued me. Then I found out that this was a port of a two year old game. I was less intrigued. After that, I discovered that the game offered several improvements and looked like a fun game much in the way of Risk, and I gave in.

So, how does this game handle the pressures of getting a console RTS to work properly? Does the artistic nature and simplistic mechanics help or harm its cause? There are plenty of worthwhile questions to ask regarding Eufloria. Let’s take a look at some of the answers.

Modes

There really isn’t a story to this thing, no matter how much the game wants to pretend otherwise. The setup is that you’re some sort of space entity in charge of spreading your seedlings to as many asteroids as possible. In your way are rival empires and a gray sickness that want to spread just as much as you. There are no characters, and no attachment. The little paragraphs before and after each mission are just fluff to attempt to bring some context to the game.

In terms of game modes, there are three. First up is the basic story mode. This leads you through twenty-five levels that progress typically. As you move forward, new mechanics are introduced, more enemies show up, and things get harder. Skirmish mode contains a bunch of one off levels that are unlocked as you complete the story. These are harder levels designed for quick play. Finally, beating the story will unlock Dark Matter. This is basically a tougher, remixed version of the campaign levels. Those who found the prior two modes didn’t offer enough challenge will certainly find themselves fulfilled here.

The rest of the features are your basic gallery and options menus. However, there is one particular option that I have mixed feelings about. You have the option to unlock all of the game’s content at any time. More specifically, you could, say, choose to unlock them individually. You can chose to play the final mission, but not the previous one, fore example. The reason I have mixed feelings about this is that it begs the question of why you’d even bother having two modes locked if you can just press a button and free them up? It seems redundant. However, being able to skip a particularly tough section might be worth it. I know a lot of people, including myself, had issues with level eleven. Had I known about this feature beforehand, I probably would have used it.

A couple of additions would have really helped. The PC version has a custom levels option. That kind of thing is pretty much standard for an RTS, and for any console RTS to lack it proves how far behind they are. Some sort of online multiplayer would have also been nice, though I certainly won’t take away because of its absence. The package is pretty nice for a PSN game, but it could have easily been more.

Graphics

I’m not exactly what you’d call an art connoisseur. I’ve blinked stupidly at things that were supposedly fantastic. As such, I’m not entirely sure what the point of this game’s art style is. I, for one, think the simplistic visuals exist not as a “statement” but as a testament to easier development. Any hidden meaning I can think of sound pretentious. Then again, isn’t that art’s forte?

If you’re zoomed out from the playing field, you could be forgiven for thinking the game is sort of graph or diagram. From afar, it appears to be nothing more than a few black circles with some dots. Zoom in, however, and things start to look a lot more interesting. Each of those black circle are actually asteroids with trees growing out of them. Out of those trees grow seedlings that eventually get big enough to detach and orbit the asteroid. During battles, these seedlings will fire off lasers at each other and explode in an enjoyable burst of color. It can actually be fun to sit around and watch these battles enfold.

Beyond what I’ve described, there’s nothing really to talk about in the visuals department. All of the action takes place on a blank canvas. All of the detail resides in the asteroids and their inhabitants. It can look cool at times, but mostly it’s boring. Imagine if you took the graphics of Flower and sucked most of the life out of them. That’s pretty much what you get here. Nothing is bad per se, but it never comes to life the way the developers surely hoped.

Audio

Much like the graphics, the audio is very understated. When zoomed out, you only have the music to accompany you. However, don’t think of this as music in the traditional sense. What you mostly get are a bunch of tonal sounds that put into the player a sense of relaxation. There are no real tunes for most of the experience. Again, this is a situation where what we’re given isn’t really bad by any means, but doesn’t really add anything to the game. If anything, it made it really easy to forget the sound was even on.

When you’re zoomed in, there are some actual battle sounds. These are run of the mill tinny explosions and lasers that games have been using for generations. They are truly nothing special and certainly not worth keeping the sound on for. It shows that aural presentation wasn’t really a key focus for the developers, or that they though the “music” would carry the experience. It doesn’t. What we’re left with is a perfect game for playing while you listen to the radio.

Gameplay

The basic premise of this game is simplicity. To that end, the aforementioned seedlings account for your basic units, resources, and most precious commodity.

To start things off, you need to have a tree on your asteroid. These come in two forms, Dyson and defense. A Dyson tree produces seedlings, while a defensive tree merely protects your forces. Dyson trees can produce flowers. Eventually, these flowers can be transformed into laser mines that devastate enemy forces. Or, if you prefer, they can be used to beef up the seedlings the tree produces. In order to plant a tree, you must spend ten seedlings. Also, you can’t simply plant a tree on an enemy asteroid. Your seedlings will need to destroy an enemy tree in order to get into the core. Once again, the seedlings sacrifice themselves for this purpose.

There are also upgrades. When you decide to upgrade your asteroids, you must chose between one of three stats. These are energy, strength, and speed. Each of these affect the fighting capabilities of your seedlings, and energy determines the fortitude of your trees. There is a huge issue here. In order to upgrade, you need to sacrifice one seedling per point of increase. Once you’ve confirmed the upgrade, you can’t cancel, and any seedlings that make their way to the asteroid will become fodder for the upgrade. So, if you decide to upgrade, and a host of enemies decide now would be the perfect time to strike, you may be left with no recourse. This makes upgrading an annoyingly risky venture. Also, since you have limited upgrade capability and you can only upgrade one attribute, the whole thing seems underdeveloped.

The seedlings, as if they haven’t done enough already, are also attack units. You can direct large groups of seedlings to fight for you. All you need to do is point them in the right direction. The battle itself is entirely hands off. There is no micromanaging to be had apart from retreat. You can’t target specific enemies or trees. You can’t group units. The battle is pretty much you watching unit count meters drain until you decide to pull out or you claim victory. There are a few amenities that make things a bit more manageable. If you so chose, you can send units by relative strength, and separate super seedlings and laser mines. This requires nimble movements of the joystick, and is painstakingly slow.

The joysticks are working overtime here. The left stick moves your cursor around the map to each asteroid. Once there, you can interact with the asteroid using the face buttons in order to grow trees, send out seedlings, and other activities. When you want to send a group out, you rotate the right stick to manipulate to send the total number of troops you need. You can also flick the stick to send everything in one shot. The controls are manageable thanks entirely to the simplicity of the mechanics. Still, during hectic situations, moving from one side of the map to the other is simply not easy.

As for the new stuff? Well, the big upgrade is the inclusion of a fast forward button. The game moves very slowly as you wait for forces to build up. The fast forward option doesn’t really affect you in any negative way and speeds up the process. I highly recommend it. The other improvement is a beacon that you can set in order to automatically send units to a designated spot on the map. If you don’t utilize this option, you’ll spend needless time sending out seedlings from distant areas to more relevant ones.

There is a lot going for this game, but also a lot going against it. For starters, the simplistic approach keeps things easy for the player. The game is all about the strategy. When do you upgrade? When do you attack? Which asteroids do you prioritize? The game has serious potential for fun. However, the slow pace kills it, and the simplicity eventually grows old. You can’t send out troops while you wait for an upgrade to finish. You can’t take an enemy asteroid without spending too many seedlings. Every battle turns into a waiting game. You wait until you’ve built up a huge force and send them in to clean things up. It just isn’t fun.

Replayability

One thing you can say about this game is that it definitely has replay value.

For starters, the main campaign can easily last you over a dozen hours or more. Dark Matter alone doubles this time. Add in the skirmish mode, and this is a game that can last dedicated players over thirty hours at the minimum. There is a lot of content to go through.

Also, the game has hidden collectibles to find and trophies to unlock. The game even has a random element to levels. While the layout remains the same, the enemy placement changes. You will not face the same challenge as last time. You can replay a mission and have different experience. That most assuredly adds to the replay value.

For those that get into this game, it offers a lot.

Balance

If there’s one thing I’ve noticed, it is that the winner of each level is pretty much determined about five minutes in. By then, you’ve either made the right moves to stay alive or you haven’t. At that point, the game becomes a waiting game. Either you’re waiting for your forces to build up enough for you to make the final push, or you’re waiting for the enemy to put the nail in your coffin. It rarely feels as if late game decisions actually have any impact. As such, a good part of the game is waiting for the inevitable.

The difficulty spikes and dips dramatically throughout. Since the placement of enemies is random, you’re just as likely to find an asteroid undefended as you are teeming with high powered foes. A lot of the difficulty can be mitigated by simply restarting until you can make enough big moves without worrying about opposition. However, if you’re like me and don’t restart at the first sign of trouble, you’ll likely be treated to a beat down of major proportions.

The whole game feels uneven. It rarely feels as if skill wins out the day, but rather a combination of timing and luck. As such, I can’t exactly award a good score for balance.

Originality

The simplicity of the mechanics can go a long way into boosting the game’s uniqueness. I’ve played other strategy games, but they tend to be much more complex. This helps create a unique feeling that was refreshing at first. (It became less refreshing when I realized that the simpleness made the game boring.)

However, I find that giving a port a good score for originality is still not a good prospect. I will award some points because you can’t really get anything else like this on PSN, but that’s about it.

Addictiveness

I’ve pretty much made it clear what I think of this game’s addictiveness. It doesn’t really have any. Most of my sessions lasted a level or two, and a lot of that time was spent waiting for seedlings to spawn. At one point I literally walked away with the game still running and made my supper. I came back later and finally had enough troops to make the final push.

The lack of micromanaging is another problem. Since you can’t use strategy beyond which troops to send, battles consist of you watching numbers go down. That’s just boring. And, when there are a ton of units, these battles can drag out. I once spent a good fifteen minutes trying to take a single asteroid. There was a trophy for it and everything. How is that fun or addicting?

When it comes down to it, I never went back to this game because I wanted to. I went back because I needed to play more in order to write a fair review. That’s simply not acceptable.

Appeal Factor

This game may seem special to PSN owners looking for something off the beaten path. In that regard, the game has some appeal. After all, RTS game don’t exactly populate the digital shelves of Sony’s console. The price point of ten dollars isn’t too bad, especially for a game with this much content.

However, fans of the genre will more than likely not enjoy this game. It sacrifices a lot of what makes a good strategy game for the sake of simplicity. The trade off doesn’t end up being worth it. The game could have ended up being like an advanced version of Risk, but it didn’t pull that off. I can’t think of too many people for whom this will be an ideal game.

Miscellaneous

I’m not sure there is anything left to talk about here. Eufloria is game that could have been good, but fails on multiple levels. The pacing is off, leading to a feeling of boredom in the player. In addition, the simplistic nature results in poor combat. Battles are simply boring. The mechanics are flawed, and this leads to a negative experience.

What’s really disappointing is that the game had potential. A lot of the problems could have been solved by making smaller skirmishes and lessening the sheer number for seedlings needed to perform basic actions. If these battles lasted ten or fifteen minutes instead of over half an hour, I would probably have enjoyed them more.

The Scores
Modes: Enjoyable
Graphics: Below Average
Audio: Poor
Gameplay: Below Average
Replayability: Very Good
Balance: Bad
Originality: Bad
Addictiveness: Very Bad
Appeal Factor: Poor
Miscellaneous: Below Average
Final Score: Below Average

Short Attention Span Summary

Eufloria ends up being a pretty big disappointment as well as a reminder to be wary of any RTS on a console. I get what the developers were going for in this game. It’s meant to be a relaxing strategy game that you can play at your leisure. The simple mechanics and presentation are a testament to that. However, the game went past relaxing and moved straight into boring territory. As such, I recommend that all but the most laid back players avoid this game.

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