Publisher: Omni Systems
Eufloria HD is a single-player science fiction real-time strategy game for the iPad and the latest release of a game originally out on Windows PC in 2009 and the PlayStation 3 (as a downloadable title) in 2011. I've been playing various versions of Eufloria since the PS3 release, and I admit that as a game reviewer I was excited to see it out on the iPad mostly because a current release gives me an excuse to write about it. It's kinda fascinating.
My first experience playing Eufloria on the PS3 felt like an experiment on how to create an RTS that plays well with game console controllers. Obviously this is not the case, as it had been released two years earlier on PC, but still, there didn't seem to be anything more to the game than that. It's very minimalist, which always interests me even if I don't end up liking it. In development, the game was originally called Dyson, and is based on Freeman Dyson's hypothesis that something like trees could grow on comets in space; Freeman Dyson also invented the Dyson shell, or idea of ringing a star with enough satellites to collect all of its solar energy—science fiction fans later simplified this concept into the so-called Dyson sphere, which involves building a solid shell around a star so that its inner surface is as far from the star as the Earth is from the sun, and then living on that inner surface, which likely has more landmass than all the planets in the galaxy. Alas, Dyson spheres are inherently unstable, which is why they're not what Freeman Dyson originally envisioned.
Anyway. In Eufloria you are ostensibly playing as seedlings and growing trees on asteroids. However, as the playing field is 2D, and all the asteroids are circular and immobile, it's really nothing like that; what it actually feels like is capturing abstract strategic nodes and shuffling resources between them—RTS gameplay boiled down to its absolute basics. The graphics are appropriately abstract: All vector-based circles with fractal trees in a color scheme that can only be accomplished in video games. It looks a bit like flOw or Pixeljunk Eden.
The basic unit of the game is the seedling. Ten seedlings orbiting an asteroid can be spent to make a tree. Any given asteroid can hold anywhere from one to five trees, either defensive trees or trees that produce more seedlings. Seedlings have three traits—energy, i.e. health; strength, i.e. how much damage they do in combat; and speed, i.e. how fast they move between asteroids and how well they evade damage in combat. These traits are dictated by the asteroid they're grown on. Different asteroids thus have different strategic values, with higher-trait asteroids appearing bigger on the map. In addition to dictating seedling traits, asteroid positions define the map—you can only travel within a range of territory defined by asteroids you've claimed, and bigger asteroids claim more territory. But smaller asteroids often act as choke points. Grower trees produce seedlings at a steady rate until the asteroid they're on has 40 seedlings orbiting it, at which point they stop, so you want to garrison your seedlings on smaller asteroids to ensure the larger ones never stop production; at the same time you want to keep enough seedlings around strategically to guard against attack. This is made easier by a command that lets you tell an asteroid to send all new seedlings to a different location, but which does not move seedlings placed in orbit manually.
That's pretty much the whole game. Well, that and laser pods. And enhanced seedlings. I won't go into those.
The iPad controls work very well; touch an asteroid to select the seedlings on it, drag to another asteroid to queue them to move, then select how many and which seedlings move along the path you've defined. Combat is automated—seedlings automatically engage enemy seedlings orbiting the same asteroid.
I like RTS games that let you function as a unit commander—tell combatants where to go, when to engage and when to retreat—but do not give you manual control of how they fight. I also enjoy RTS games that focus on logistics (I always joked that what I really want to play is SimMilitaryBase) and allow for combat with a great many fighters. (Woo, Total Annihilation! Woo, Supreme Commander!) So Eufloria, with its abstract video game graphics and science fiction fan background, its focus on logistics and disdain for micromanagement, should be right up my alley.
So now's where I talk about how it fails.
It's sedate. It's really sedate. This wouldn't be a problem, except there really isn't much to do. You plant trees and move seedlings around and wait, for long periods of time, before you have enough resources to get anything done. Turtling is almost always an effective strategy, and I win most matches by defending until I have enough seedlings for a rush.
The campaign is really painstakingly thorough in introducing new concepts one at a time—I didn't even know there was going to be two types of units until like halfway through it. As such, it feels repetitive. It's possible to get bored of Eufloria long before you realize you haven't seen all of it yet.
The AI is not great at making sensible strategic choices—it doesn't really do the "shunt all your spare seedlings on a tiny asteroid somewhere so all your other asteroids keep producing new soldiers" thing, which is why turtling works—and there is no multiplayer. I'm not a multiplayer guy but this game looks like it would play much more interestingly against another human being than against the computer.
Those weaknesses aside, it's interesting enough to be worth a purchase on whatever platform you have that supports it, and Eufloria HD for the iPad is probably the best version.
This review is based on a copy of Eufloria HD for iPad purchased with personal funds, and to a lesser extent the copies of Eufloria for PS3 and PC I also bought with personal funds ages ago.
Previously – Katawa Shoujo