Eufloria: A Simple Challenge

Alright, now this isn’t a review really. What would be the point? I recently got this game in the Indie Royale bundle, started it up and found it pretty enjoyable. And it got me thinking about games that I catch myself planning and strategizing when I went in with no notion I had to do any of that. It was a pleasant surprise. These are some thoughts on that sort of stuff, I suppose.

Sometimes, simplicity is a game’s greatest asset. With just some basic colors, sounds and mechanics a game can shine through even the beefiest of graphics heavy, number crunching competitors. But just because a game plays and looks simple, never means that it can’t kick your ass, repeatedly. You can see this in early Nintendo games, or some newer indie games today. One such game from this year is Eufloria. Eufloria is an incredibly simplified real time strategy game. The objective is to take over every single asteroid on the map with your little seedlings without becoming extinct yourself. You can plant two types of trees on each asteroid. Ones that grow new seedlings and ones that pretty much act as turrets to defend the asteroid. Some asteroids can hold five trees, and sometimes they can hold only one. The player must defend against onslaughts from other factions of seedlings while expanding their own empire. But, Eufloria is a game that basically comes down to dot wars around differing sizes of circles. Sure there are fast dots, tough dots and lethal dots, but sometimes it just comes down to numbers.

It’s a neat concept executed in a completely minimalist form. It starts off deceptively easy, where you can basically hang out until you have an inordinate amount of seedlings to just brute force your way through all of the asteroids. I went through the first several acts this way, and never had to play a level twice. It was actually disappointingly easy. I sat playing the first scenarios wondering what the point was.

Unfortunately, this is the game at its worst. When you sit around, twiddling your thumbs waiting for your giant army to come into being (there is surprisingly no fast-forwarding time). Then you just send everything to each planet, and you’re done. It becomes easy to think that the game takes no real strategy, and that the level design (randomly generated) is lazy. I almost stopped playing out of boredom, and thinking, “Yep, I get it.”

However, when I got the later acts, I started getting my ass handed to me. What was happening? I started getting sort of mad at the game for throwing such a curve-ball of difficulty. Suddenly, it was time for actual strategy. Now, I had to figure out how many seedlings I could sacrifice to leave and try to start a new colony, or the ratio between growing trees and defensive trees on each asteroid. I had to actually decide if an asteroid was worth taking. I had to be careful that if I left one asteroid with too few seedlings, that it would not be bombarded by the other factions immediately.

Honestly, the jarring shift in difficulty really threw me for a loop. Where my hubris in obliterating other asteroids helped me in the earlier levels, I became frustrated that it simply would not work anymore. Enemies became relentless and outnumbered my forces constantly. Starting asteroids started sucking if I wanted expansion. It came as a sort of reality check that I needed to actually think carefully through the next level and it got me excited to keep playing it, really. And with each new level came new challenges. Eufloria’s hidden cleverness comes not from new mechanics or new gimmicks as the game progresses, but rather progressively daunting scenario design. It got to a point where I really had to play many later levels a few times to get the rhythm just right, or my tactics flawless.

In a way, Eufloria is sort of beginner’s training for more robust and mechanically dense real time strategy games. The stats between the three types of seedlings only occasionally come into play. There isn’t a wide range of forces at your disposal, and you are not upgrading buildings or maxing out tech trees, but there is a joy to the simplicity of it. It is strange to get excitement when seeing hundreds of blue dots leave one asteroid and swarm a busy rival faction’s. It becomes an entrancing mess of swirling colored dots, a feeling slightly trumped when you zoom in and see all of the individual seedlings dogfighting.

It is always infuriating when a game goes from stupid easy to unbearably difficult without the slightest warning. I remember the last portions of Brutal Legend got into controller-chucking territory out of nowhere. It sucks, but at the same time, it hopefully forces the player to take a look at their tactics and figure something out, as long as they haven’t been turned off by the entire notion already. Steep learning curves are like having a jog, then being told to continue up a mountain. Though, once you jump that hurdle, the rest is coasting. Maybe it was the piss-easy “tutorial” levels, or maybe it was just that the entire aesthetic of the game threw me off, but it was a frustrating yet satisfying experience.

All through school, my teachers have told to always keep it simple. Get across what you need to in as little as possible. It’s good advice. But in games, complexity can be incredibly intriguing for people who love to explore and pick apart games. To master them by know intricate details about every mechanic. Those are rewarding and fun, but there is a case to be made about games that have little, but give much more. Eufloria could be considered a “casual” game, and to some extent it is, but, cunningly, I think there is enough challenge and thought for any gamer that is looking for it.

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