Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Inexplicable Video Game Review: Keeping It Balanced With Ecolibrium

This is one of the cool creatures that cost a million points.

So, what would happen if you basically fused the odd cult SNES game EVO with a simulation / management game? The answer is Ecolibrium, a rigidly timed game available on the PS Vita. It’s free if you’re a Playstation Plus subscriber, which I am.

Basically, the goal in the game is twofold: 1) Solve “challenges” facing three different ecosystems by balancing the animals, plants and fungi in each one. 2) In your own one to three ecosystems, build up vibrant wildlife balances to earn points, which help you buy new, more valuable animals, plants and fungi that earn you more points.

The life forms you buy are all original creations, although most of the animals are vaguely dinosaur-ish in appearance and sound (or rather what I imagine a dinosaur would sound like). Likewise, the plants tend to have real world analogues, with the most expensive and best tree kind of resembling a redwood.

The most intriguing and frustrating aspect of Ecolibrium is its usage of real-time. You start out with 100 energy points per challenge or free ecosystem. Introducing a new creature costs 20 energy points, and a plant costs 10 points. Energy points restore at the rate of one per minute, so when you use up all your energy, it takes roughly 100 minutes to recover it back.

However, this mechanic isn’t really used well enough. Except for your first few times playing, and when starting a new challenge, you usually don’t have to worry about your energy consumption because the scarcer resource is points.

As previously mentioned, you use points – either the system-wide ones or the challenge-specific points – to buy animals, plants and fungi. However, you build up points with the same real-time mechanic as energy. After about a month of playing the game, I have a level eight ecosystem with a wide range of creatures, but my point production is only about 1,100 per hour.

This is a problem when the second ecosystem you can buy costs 1 million points, and the third ecosystem is a whopping 2 million points. With the (roughly) 400,000 points I have now, it means I can’t afford a second ecosystem for another month, which means limited playing on my part. You can repeat challenges for points, but only for 10 percent of the original reward – so, around 12,000 points. It’s usually not worth the effort.

Because of the point shortage, it severely hampers the other fun parts of the game. There is an auction house where you can bid on and sell surplus creatures, but if you’re hoarding points to buy an ecosystem, it doesn’t usually help to bid. (Example: The platinum-level creatures generate points at a much-higher rate of around 200 per hour, but to buy a pair from the auction house costs around 1 million points by itself.)

Of course, like a Facebook game, Ecolibrium does offer you “add-on content” that you can spend real money on, kind of like the packs in Mass Effect 3. Unlike that game though, you can’t buy, say, creature or plant packs with points – you have to spend real money. While there are posts on message boards about people doing this, the overall quality of Ecolibrium isn’t high enough to tempt me.

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