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Eufloria review: Fight the flowers that be

Russ Frushtick

The games industry is often known for its bluster. Its explosions, its gruesome headshots, its eerily realistic prostitutes. Less well known is the games industry's quiet, thoughtful nephew who, instead of getting drunk and grabby at Thanksgiving, crawls under the table to finish the 1000-piece puzzle he's been working on. That nephew is the independent games community.

Sony has done right by indie games, giving them an outlet on PSN, taking big risks with artsy titles like Flower and PixelJunk Eden. The publisher's latest indie outreach is Eufloria, another quiet, subtle game that blends elements of RPGs, space exploration, and RTS games with soothing visuals and a stellar ambient soundtrack.

Eufloria is an RTS, but you wouldn't know it at first glance. The planets you're tasked with exploring and conquering are simple circles on a solid-colored backdrop. A screenshot taken from the start of the game could easily be mistaken for a painting off the wall at MoMA. Hardly the convoluted visual inundation one sees at the beginning of StarCraft II. And yet, Eufloria is still in the same genre -- it's just distilled.

The strategy elements become clear once you grow your first tree. Trees generate seedlings which act as your units of exploration, allowing you to spread your influence through the rest of the map. Trees also take on the properties of their home planet, so if a planet is listed as having high speed and energy, any units produced on that planet will have those same properties. The trick becomes conquering the most statistically powerful planets on a given map, thus giving you the most powerful units, thus letting you conquer the rest of the map with ease.

There is, of course, an AI nemesis who is attempting to do exactly the same thing you are. Each of Eufloria's campaign maps play out like miniature, real-time battles of Risk. Unfortunately there's no multiplayer, but the AI is devious enough that you're sure to be challenged, especially later on.

The arrival of Eufloria on PSN is both a blessing and a curse for the game. Improvements have been added to what was offered in the original PC version, such as the extremely handy fast-forward button, which removes some of the monotony of building up your forces. Some new unit types have been added, as well, letting you adjust the statistical properties of a planet by sacrificing seedlings to it.
The controls were also redesigned specifically for the PSN version, but that's where things falter. Managing an RTS on a controller is already tricky business, but Eufloria struggles with even the simplest tasks, like selecting a specific planet. Early on, when planets are in a straight line, selection is easy, but once they become more scattered, you'll find yourself selecting the wrong planet at the wrong time, sending hundreds of your dutiful seedlings to their deaths. And without an option to save mid-level, those misplaced units might result in an hour of wasted time.

There are also some peculiar presentation decisions. The game's minimalist graphics are, as I mentioned, suitable for framing. Far less beautiful is the garish statistical menu which takes up the bottom 20% of the screen. Some effort to find a middle ground between the two graphical styles would've gone a long way to making the visuals feel more uniform and consistent throughout.

It's worth noting that Eufloria is not for casual gamers. The learning curve is slow enough, but if you're new to real-time strategy games, you're likely going to find yourself overwhelmed. There is an "ambient" mode, which dials back the AI speed and aggressiveness, but even on that level I had a real struggle through the game's final campaign levels. Hardcore players may appreciate the addition of Dark Matter mode, which offers up an even more challenging campaign, and Skirmishes, which are more focused, combat-centric battles, but most will find the main campaign challenging enough.

Eufloria fits well with its indie PSN brethren. It has a look all its own, and the dreamy, ambient score would make for great mood music in an opium den. It is, however, hindered by its controls and a lack of gameplay variety, which doesn't much evolve over its 10 hour campaign. But, for RTS fans who don't have too much console fodder to feed their addiction, Eufloria is a solid morsel at a cheap price.

This review is based on final code of Eufloria sent to Joystiq by Sony.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

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