The PlayStation Network certainly has games that add unique twists to traditional genres. Everyday Shooter, for example, mixes in dual-stick shooting with music by way of created guitar riffs while Flower makes an adventure game out of wind, floating flower petals, and the dreams of plants. The good thing is that most of these games are fun, even without being quirky. The latest game to enter this unofficial category is Eufloria, a strategy title that was previously available on the PC roughly two years ago.
The plot certainly fits the quirky moniker well. You play the role of a commander who's charged with overseeing the Euflorian life forms. These life forms can be planted on and grow on the asteroids surrounding the solar system. However, the planting efforts are threatened by a mysterious gray menace that can destroy seedlings and infect the asteroids. Your job is to establish Euflorian colonies on all of the asteroids and stop the gray menace in order to accelerate the return of an alien race known as the Growers.
Every level in Eufloria starts out simply with you already inhabiting an asteroid with seedlings orbiting it. The seedlings are the only units you get to control, but they are rather versatile multitaskers because they can be set up to defend an asteroid from invaders or sent out to both scout and populate any other asteroids within range. Ten of them can be used to plant two different types of trees to establish the asteroid as part of your empire. Dyson trees are responsible for the creation of more seedlings over time, while defense trees provide explosive fruit that acts as a countermeasure to opponent seedlings. Each tree strengthens over time to produce more units at a faster rate, and flowers can be added to the asteroid to create secondary tree abilities. Dyson trees, for example, can produce seedlings with enhanced fire rates once the flower is attached, and defense trees can produce laser mines instead.
Asteroid size plays a large part in one's strategy for several different reasons. Larger asteroids increase the range with which seedlings can be sent out to scout or take over neighboring asteroids. Size also determines the amount of energy and time needed for seedlings to burrow down and establish a tree. More importantly, each asteroid contains ratings on three categories: energy, speed and strength. These factors determine the stats for the growing seedlings, giving you an easier way to produce units designed for specific tasks.
The game offers up three different modes for the solo player, though two of them don't open up until one mode is complete. The story mode sends you through 25 levels to uncover the reason behind the gray creation. Once this has been completed, you'll open up both Skirmish and Dark Matter modes. Skirmish gives you eight different scenarios, with the hook that playing any scenario more than once gives you different layouts thanks to the game's procedural generation. In turn, those eight scenarios can turn into a limitless amount since the chances of running into two similar layouts in greatly decreased. Dark Matter mode, on the other hand, takes select levels from the game's story mode and remixes them with a different color scheme, complete asteroid control and more aggressive AI.
You'll notice that the game doesn't contain a multiplayer mode. There's no opportunity for you to go against a friend either locally or online, and there's no chance to play cooperatively using the same options. The nature of the game and genre makes it a natural fit for multiplayer, and the game feels somewhat incomplete without it.
Taken as a simple RTS title, Eufloria is well done. Most of the mundane tasks found in other RTS games are either automated or removed altogether here. Units are automatically generated over time, trees are randomly placed on asteroids, and there's no need to worry about resource gathering or management. All you have to worry about is unit movement and determining which units need to be sent out to take care of a situation. It places a stronger emphasis on basic tactics, resulting in a more focused experience.
There is one glaring problem with the game: Most of the time, you'll be doing nothing. Unit production and tree growth are rather slow, and the same can be said for both seedling travels and battles. There is a fast-forward function in the game, but since the game already moves slowly, fast-forward feels like the normal pace in other RTS games. The waiting is compounded by the fact that until you get to the later levels or the other two modes, enemy AI just isn't very aggressive. The first time you encounter them, they'll be content with just wiping out your forces and forgetting about the trees, leaving you to simply wait around to build up enough units to exact your revenge. Later on, you can beat back a few of their forces and not worry about them for the rest of the match; you can just build and conquer until they have no choice but to fight you. Since there's not much going on for most of the game, you'll be lulled into a state where you'll let the game play itself and come back to issue orders. While some may say that it's a perfect opportunity to take in everything, others will do something else and come back periodically with little or no consequences.
The controls are normally a problem on console RTS games, but here, they don't fare too badly. Your left analog stick controls camera panning while the right analog stick swaps focus between all of the asteroids in the field. The L2 and R2 triggers deal with zoom, while L1 toggles the fast-forward function. Once an asteroid has been selected, face buttons determine your course of action while the directional buttons determine which unit type you want to send. Because the game doesn't have the variety of units and actions of other RTSes, the controls work well enough. The only problem is that the face buttons don't seem to respond to light taps, requiring you to really press the buttons to get the action done. Even though the game doesn't require twitch reflexes, it would have been nice if it felt more responsive.
Graphically, Eufloria is both simple and beautiful. The worlds consist of nothing more than pastel colors while asteroids are represented by dark-colored spheres with white gradients at the center. Both the trees and the seedlings look like they're made of watercolor paints; the colors fade away at the ends of the petals and branches, creating a soft look that blends well with the background, even when the colors are changed in Dark Matter mode. When zoomed in on an asteroid, you're provided with plenty of action and get to see things like the tree roots embedding deeply into the asteroid core. When viewed from afar, everything feels diminutive, with only tiny specs and bright spots indicating that there's any life fighting at all. Combined, the game looks like a piece of modern art, helping it stand out in a crowd of games that try to mimic reality. If there were one thing that destroys the appearance, though, it would be the menu showing at the bottom of the screen when asteroids are selected. The size of said menu is rather large, and while that makes for some easy-to-read text, it also obscures a good portion of the bottom screen, which is where some asteroids are hiding. The menu is translucent, but poor graphical planning results in covering up some potentially vital information.
For a strategy game, the sound selection isn't something you'd normally hear from the genre. The music never goes for excitement, often choosing to bathe one's ears in soft melodies — even when one of your asteroids is being invaded by a massive swarm of gray seedlings. The sound effects that play when seedlings engage in battle are stock laser blasts, but they never overwhelm the score and actually provide a strange complement because of their reduced volume. It makes for a rather calming experience, but it would have been better received if the whole thing didn't play at such a low volume. Compared to every other game on the system, the overall sound can barely be heard at normal levels and needs a boost. Since the game lacks options for sound level, this means increasing the volume on your TV or sound system, and you'll have to readjust this when you transfer to another game.
Eufloria is a basic strategy game that can be both frustrating and entertaining. The overall simplicity might not be enticing for more seasoned fans of the genre, and the slow pace will prove maddening to those expecting more action at a faster pace. Those who are looking for something more competitive or cooperative will also be left wanting, as this is strictly a solo affair, albeit one with a decent amount of modes attached. Still, the game's easy-to-learn mechanics are perfect for those just starting out in the genre, but the unlocked game modes make up for the slower pace and lack of difficulty in the game's campaign. As long as you aren't put off by the slow, methodical pace of the title, this game could be tailor-made for you.
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