Dyson
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Looks a bit like a spot cream commercial, doesn't it

I first read about Eufloria (then known as Dyson) in August, 2008 and ever since I’ve been telling anyone who’d listen.  The public build was a very functional game even then and, with further development, promised to be something very special.  I’ve cheered its indie developers on through every competition the game was entered into and nerd raged like the biggest bearded, bespectacled baby in the world when it was beaten to the Seumas McNally Prize at IGF by Blueberry Garden.  Blueberry fecking Garden!!!  I’m still not over it…

This week it occurred to me that for all of my flag-waving and fanaticism, I hadn’t actually got around to playing the finished product since its October 20th release.  Whoops!

The no-longer-copyright-bothering Eufloria adheres most closely to the RTS genre but to describe it as a real-time strategy game would be a little misleading to anyone who hasn’t seen it in action.  Eufloria is entirely 2D and, strictly speaking, only has one unit type.  You are in space - albeit a pleasantly hued pastel space – and the vacuum is littered with circular asteroids.  Only it isn’t a vacuum.  Trees sprout from the asteroids and seedlings grow on them; these are your soldiers.  By sending your seedlings from one asteroid to another you can fight off their occupiers and grow more trees in their place, expanding your empire across the universe.  Each asteroid has ratings for energy, strength, and speed and the seedlings grown on them will reflect these attributes, so a seedling grown on an asteroid with a high speed stat will be faster than seedlings grown elsewhere.

Barring some minor embellishments that crop up as the 25 mission campaign progresses, that’s all there is to it.  It was this simple system that won me over when I played the handful of missions available in the early builds but now that I’ve had to play through 25 of them in quick succession for this review, I wish Eufloria could be a bit more complex.

The trouble is that there isn’t much the developers can do to vary the missions because of how simple the basic mechanics are.  Almost every task the game sets ultimately boils down to gradually taking control of the asteroids around you until everything else is dead, just with a very slightly different placement of the asteroids in comparison with the previous mission.  As luck would have it I realised this immediately before the game turned my world upside down with something entirely different: an escort mission.  Bloody marvellous.  Nobody likes escort missions but this one was particularly awful as the folks I was escorting had no qualms at all about attacking me, and if I fought back I’d lose the mission!  I suppose that was the developers’ way of telling me that I should be thankful for the standard missions as it fell right back into old habits from then on.

What Eufloria needs is online multiplayer.  The AI does its job adequately but it becomes quite predictable and it’s not much fun to play against for hours on end.  A human opponent would be infinitely more surprising and as the game has no balance issues at all the stage would be set for some very interesting experiences.  Unfortunately the developers have stated that it’s very unlikely multiplayer features will be added to Eufloria at this stage.

Two things that make Eufloria stand out from other games are its use of colour and its soundtrack but, despite initially enjoying both, I did everything in my power to be rid of them after a while.

When allowed to show off its pastel colours Eufloria is a very pretty game but, sadly, a very confusing one.  Turning the galaxy pastel blue, asteroid by asteroid, is all well and good until you run into an enemy who’s a very slightly darker shade of pastel blue.  It’s Aston Villa against West Ham and the kit man forgot to bring the away shirts.  There is an option to use “accessible team colours” which turns you blue, the plot-important “Greys” black, and every enemy red.  This is a bit more functional but not perfect as you will often be fighting more than one enemy and they will all be the same shade of red.

If I were to tell you that the music in Eufloria is “ambient” you’d all know exactly what I mean and probably be able to imagine something pretty close to the Eufloria soundtrack.  Most of the time you’ll forget that it’s there but when you are aware of it it’s very apt for the atmosphere of the game.  Even so it didn’t feel like an important enough part of the game for me to endure after the first half a dozen hours, so off it went in favour of something a little more engaging.

I’m a bit disappointed in Eufloria really, although I’m conscious that a lot of my weariness with the game may well come from playing a lot of it in a short space of time.  My first experiences with Dyson came in bite-sized chunks, before the addition of a lengthy campaign, and perhaps that’s the way it should always be played.  The game works so well with mouse controls but perhaps a more suitable home would be on a pick-up-and-play platform like the DS or iPhone where it would never be on screen long enough to outstay its welcome.  There are some very good ideas in Eufloria, they just don’t lend themselves to extended examination.

Not your average English country garden