Review: Eufloria

Don’t worry, everyone. I managed to get my review in on time. It took a few late nights and more than a few strong coffees, but it’s done.

Wait, what? Eufloria was released in 2009?

Well… fuck.

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Windows/PSN game Eufloria was recently given a new lease on life with its appearance in November’s Humble Indie Bundle as well as its appearance on the iOS, Android, Mac and Linux platforms. The only place it has yet to colonise is Xbox Live Arcade. Oh, and Nintendo’s Virtual Console. Ahahaha. Is that still what they call it? Does it still have overpriced, unoptimised Nintendo games on it? Hahahaha. Sorry, the past can be so funny.

Sometimes, though, the past isn’t so funny. Eufloria is based on an earlier prototype then known as Dyson. I played a little bit of Dyson when Rock, Paper, Shotgun featured it around the time of its release. When was that? About 2007? It was very similar to Eufloria in terms of basic mechanics, but of course has been heavily refined both in terms of that mechanical core and the gameplay variation assembled around it.

The best way of understanding Eufloria is as a real-time strategy game. Early on, in fact, it almost seems as if Eufloria is an RTS designed for people who don’t like RTS games. The principles of play are very simple and easy to understand. There are no hotkeys and micromanagement is unnecessary. The game even has an extremely soothing aesthetic, both visually and sonically. It’s all soft colours and ambient music and gentle, soft sound effects.

Then, of course, you get to the first difficult level, and you get swarmed by hundreds of enemies and everything gets blown up and they take our all your trees and capture all your asteroids and oh god there wasn’t even time to understand what went so wrong. How did it all go so wrong?

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Let’s backtrack. That aforementioned mechanical core involves the player controlling swarms of seedlings which can both colonise asteroids (growing into trees, which produce more seedlings) or go into battle against other seedlings or trees. There are later variations on this, but that’s the basic gist. Play involves developing your asteroids, holding onto the ones which produced the best seedlings, and taking asteroids from other players until you control everything.

There are limitations, of course. Some levels feature choke points which become hard-fought over. All asteroids have a ‘range’, and seedlings can only travel from one asteroid to another if the second is within range of the first. This is used to great effect in some of the later levels.

Playing Eufloria can actually be a rather frantic experience, and it’s rare that you’re sitting back doing nothing – even when there are no mouseclicks to be made there’s lots to monitor and plan for. If nothing else then building up large swarms of seedlings is a good idea; each asteroid has a natural population cap which it won’t produce beyond, so manually sending seedlings to a single asteroid maximises seedling production. If that sounds cheap, well, you should see what you can be up against.

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The game’s missions have a good range of variety. They ease you in nice and gently, teasing you along with a very vague narrative context about corrupted seedlings, then push you into tricky positions with unusual setups or variations on the basic rules that force you to take what you’ve learned and apply it differently. Two good examples of this are one level where all seedlings are very vulnerable – meaning that big strong armies can’t be relied upon and large forces can die in seconds – as well as a level where it is necessary to keep roving bands of enemy seedlings alive, necessitating constant evacuation and resettlement of asteroids.

It’s not without its flaws. It’s impossible to save mid-mission, for example, which is probably the result of how the game’s code was written and how levels are automatically generated on each load. This doesn’t seem like a problem early on but later, when missions can easily last forty five minutes to an hour, it’s annoying – if you want to stop playing and come back later you need to leave the game running. Similarly, the narrative metaphor of seedlings and trees on asteroids doesn’t really hold up when you introduce “laser mines”, but what the hell. It’s a videogame, after all. We can just accept these things and get on with it.

Over time you’ll learn more and more about the game: that the longer a tree has lived, the faster it produces seedlings, for example, or when and where to use your rare flowers to enhance trees. As with any RTS, quick thinking and knowing when to back off and lick your wounds is also valuable. And for experienced players there are plenty of challenges, with a “dark mode” that reimagines key levels from the campaign, alongside achievements. But all of this can come with time, and what’s most important to note is that Eufloria remains one of the most accessible RTS games I’ve played in years.

[Arcadian Rhythms’ review of Eufloria is based on the Steam version. We imagine that the other versions are much the same, but playing it on a small touchscreen probably sucks a bit.]

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