It’s rare when you can go into a game with a completely open mind. We’re constantly hit over the head by marketing teams across a brigade of publishers, eager to let you know about that hot new sequel in that genre that you’ve played for years. In one way or another, you know exactly what to expect, and you may have even made up your mind before getting your hands on a controller.
In the case of Eufloria, I had never so much as heard of it until I managed to get my hands on a review copy, despite fact that the game had originally debuted on PC almost two years ago. Not knowing what to expect from the game aside from the floral theme that the title implied, I went into the game with a mind wiped of all expectation and prejudice, a refreshing feeling that I hadn’t had the privilege of experiencing in a long while.
Booting up Eufloria revealed a couple of things, the first being that it’s very pretty. It takes a nice, minimalistic approach to both the graphics and music, which is disarming yet relaxing. You get a wonderful variety of quiet pastel tones and much more vibrant shades in later levels, and the music compliments the visuals very well. It’s all very well done, really. Second, I found that it’s a real-time strategy game, something that you wouldn’t be able to gather simply from looking at screenshots. You’re tasked with amassing an army of seedlings, done by growing trees strewn across the map. The more trees you have, the faster your army grows. You’ll encounter enemy seedlings, of course, and to eradicate them usually means to overwhelm them by outnumbering them. Once you’ve taken over each asteroid, you’ve completed the level.
There are attributes assigned to each asteroid, and this dictates what kind of seedlings you get from the trees sprouted there — energy affects the amount of health your seedlings have, strength affects the amount of damage that they do, and speed affects how quickly they move. The game doesn’t really tell you any of this, but it’s something you realize when you notice that seedlings from one rock move much faster than the seedlings next door.
Ultimately, that’s the most divisive thing about Eufloria — it doesn’t really tell you anything. On the one hand, it’s kind of nice to figure things out on your own, especially during the earliest levels. Yet there’s an undeniable frustration over not knowing exactly what’s happening on-screen, especially in strategy game. Every seedling you produce looks identical, and there’s no way of distinguishing them when they’re fighting over an asteroid. Each of these asteroids also has a statistic called “Core Energy,” though I’m still unsure as to what it means. You’re not even given a reason to fight the other seedlings other than that they’re a different color, so you may as well take the disembodied Mother Tree’s word for it.
It’s no secret that controlling a strategy game with a gamepad is usually less-than-ideal, but it’s no less annoying when it when it falters. Sadly, it’s a trap that Eufloria falls into as well. Selecting asteroids, which accounts for well over half of your control inputs through the course of the game, is the biggest flaw. Depending on how far you zoom the camera out, this is either a non-issue or an enormous hinderance. With the camera zoomed in between two asteroids, it’s impossible to choose the wrong one. Zoom out to where you can see several asteroids scattered across the screen and selection becomes very hit-or-miss. Using the right stick, you’ll constantly find yourself selecting the wrong asteroid, which is particularly frustrating during a heated battle.
To round out my complaints, and to really compound the frustration, is that the game’s difficulty is all over the place. Sometimes you’ll decimate all enemy seedlings that stand before you, beating a level without breaking a sweat. Other times you’ll be unable to conquer a single asteroid even if you outnumber their seedlings 3-to-1, leading to agitating wars of attrition over a single rock. Combined with the lack of information and clumsy controls, I found myself more frustrated with this than a recent God of War playthrough on Hard. At least then my failings were all my own.
In the end, the game fails to execute on some great ideas. The game looks wonderful, but you have to zoom in to see the most exquisite details, such as the different trees, their leaves and roots, and the seedlings flying about. However, this makes the game harder to play. To zoom out and maximize your ability to play is to lose what makes the game so great to look at, making it a series of gray dots surrounded by pastel-colored clouds. The game’s concept of using trees to amass an army — arbor warfare, if you will — is actually quite brilliant, but is squandered by shoddy controls and inconsistent difficulty.
If I could review a game based purely on good ideas, Eufloria would be an easy recommendation. Since games have to be played, that recommendation in unfortunately uprooted.
Final Grade: D+