28: Eufloria

I played this, long ago, when it was still a proof-of-concept named Dyson. It was based off an idea of the scientist (Freeman Dyson), that a tree-like plant (Dyson Tree) could be engineer to provide a breathable, enclosed atmosphere around a comet (Dyson Comet. Probably.) This is the sort of idea that you *want* a game to have as its starting point, isn’t it? There’s no mention of Orcs or Normandy or even misunderstood aliens, just you and your plants. Eufloria keeps it simple, the playing world is a series of circles representing asteroids, with trees that grow on them, and seedlings that fight over them.

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As a spectacle, Eufloria is a triumph. With such a simple selection of units, you might be forgiven for expecting the game to look very samey, but a huge amount of work has gone into trying to personalising the asteroids and their progeny. Each asteroid has characteristics attached to it, speed, strength and energy, which impact the seedlings it will produce. In general, bigger asteroids are better, but asteroids of the same size will have sizeable variation within those stats. You can then see this difference in the seedlings, with particularly strong ones being sleek and long, speedy ones having powerful beating wings, and high-energy ones being fat and sluggish. When you gather together several asteroids’ offspring into one big invasion force, you really get the feel of a ragtag coalition of the seedling.

Then you send forth your floral armada to do battle and claim new lands, to spread your particular hue across the asteroid belt. The stats affect the fights, stong ones doing more damage, speedy ones avoiding attacks, high-energy bastards just toughing it out. There’s no feeling of violence, I suppose, it is in fact quite soothing just watching two huge seedling forces fight it out asymmetrically, with laser flowers bringing the heavy support and providing the little guys with their opportunity to be Luke Skywalker taking out a Death Star, and defensive trees popping mines into the atmosphere. The music is simple and calm, there’s no sudden clashing sound effects or alarm klaxons, it’s just all very…nice.

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As a strategy, however, it’s not quite there. The first thing I was put in mind of was the flash game Dice Wars (Dyson Wars, eh? Eh?). A fine, distracting game to kill fifteen minutes, but ultimately just a test of patience. Build up, build up, advance slowly and methodically, and eventually your human focus will overpower the scizophrenic AI. I was…slightly unfair in this assessment, but it is broadly true. The AI isn’t bad but it doesn’t have a proper idea of when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em. Given time, you’ll win, unless you get wiped out at the start. There’s certainly stuff to bear in mind – you can only attack asteroids in range of your own, and that attack radius is proportional to the size of it, so you can use that to create chokepoints. Filling an asteroid with defensive trees will let you hold it, but you won’t produce any seedlings, whereas filling it with Dyson trees will give you a steady supply of troops but not much defence if you lose the pitched battle. You have to decide whether to use your men to build trees (each one costs ten seedlings), or conquer somewhere else (they have to destroy a tree then burrow to the core to change the allegiance of the roots down there – another nice touch)

The problem is that despite those little variables, despite the seedling stats and the tree type choices and the radius comparisons, there’s only really one thing that matters: size. He who controls the big asteroids, controls the asteroid belt. There is no contest in fights between big and little, unless they’re outnumbered 10 to 1. There’s no way that someone with a little asteroid can win, unless their opponent gets distracted and they can sneak in. This is demonstrated by Mission 18: Hide and Seek, which starts you off in the centre of a map, on a tiny ball, surrounded by giants. The idea of it is to show you how to fight against the odds, but it instead shows you that it is impossible to do so unless the AI is intentionally hobbled. Fortunately that’s a one-off mission, and mostly the game plays to the strength of random skirmish-type maps, a gathering of asteroids of different sizes and owners which you must conquer in a soothing, calm way.

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It does feel like there’s a few simple things they could add on to make it a more precise experience. Journey waypoints would be a start, because at the moment your seedlings plot whatever path occurs to them first. Normally this isn’t an issue but you can have hair-tearing situations where they’ll go via some massively defended enemy asteroid, getting slaughtered in the process, unless you carefully lead them around it. I would also love gather points, because you spend the majority of your game moving clumps of 5-6 seedlings from the planet they start on to the planet you need them to be at. You need to keep doing this because asteroids won’t produce new seedlings if there’s already forty there, and because you work much better as a swarm. It is very tedious to keep doing, though, and you eventually stop caring about the planets that you have to scroll the screen to get to as it’s just too much work to constantly be moving in seedlings from there. If they’d just move out automatically you’d spent a lot less time mindlessly clicking and a lot more actually considering what you need to do.

They also succumed to the indie temptation to staple a paper-thin plot onto a good mechanic. There is a shocking plot twist. Come on guys, this is a game about watching lovely seedlings fight each other on a lovely asteroid belt, we don’t need that. Anyway, despite those flaws, despite the fact it is actually pretty easy, it’s original enough, with a special enough aesthetic, that I’m willing to overlook. THIS ONE TIME.

4 stars, 9 hours spent (the campaign and a few skirmishes)

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