Ecolibrium is weird game. Not the zany, adorable kind of weird I reserve for Japanese import games, I mean weird in that I don’t know what the makers were thinking when they made it. It has a cool and unique concept that could fill an important niche on the PS Vita, but a few confusing decisions throw the entire experience off track.
While the back story isn’t explained, I assume you are playing the part of some intergalactic rancher who wants to populate a barren world with diverse plant and wildlife. You have a cloning machine and the blueprints to make a few simple (and completely alien) flora and fauna, but you have to introduce them to the environment in way that keeps the ecosystem in balance. So for every water-guzzling tree, you need a few plants that replenish water. Those plants can provide food for herbivores to flourish and multiply over time, but you’ll need some carnivores around to make sure they don’t grow out of control. But you don’t want the carnivores to eat too many and wipe out the herbivores, so you gotta… well, you can see where it goes from there.
Managing this sounds pretty complicated, but the game has an easy learning curve thanks to the simple stat display that shows which resources are dwindling or are in excess. It also helps that you’re given lots of baby steps to follow. The best way to describe the gameplay is “laid back.” You pretty much tinker, sit back, watch your cool looking creatures for a bit, then figure out what you want to add next. It’s a simple but pleasant cycle that gets more interesting over time and more options become available.
The more diverse your ecosystem the more points you’ll gain every hour that can be spent on more cloned critters to populate your world. You can also buy special machines that speed things up or fill in a gap in your planet’s resources. It would have been fine if these points were the only limiter on growth, but Ecolibrium also implements an Energy system limiting how many actions you can do before needing to wait a few hours to play again (or pay real money for more Energy, of course). It seems like a poor fit for a game you really only need to check once or twice a day and make all of your adjustments then.
Speaking of poor fits, you have to sign into the PlayStation Network to play. This doesn’t make any sense! This is predominately a single-player game with the only online feature being purchasing things from other players in auctions. Then there’s the small fact that this is a mobile game. I would generally assume that mobile players are not usually at home, and thus not always going to be near Wi-Fi (and very few bought the 3G Vita).
What particularly irks me about having to log into PSN is the fact that many elements of the game are time sensitive. If you don’t check your world every day, some species begin to wither away and you can lose progress. This is compounded in the Challenge mode where you only have 24 hours to accomplish a goal. And just pray you don’t need a system update before logging in at an important time.
One thing they got right are the micro-transactions. The game offers a lot of cool extras, from new species to items that speed up the game, but they’re priced reasonably. In fact, this is one of the few games I’ve played that lets you buy stuff for less than $0.50.
Considering that this game is a free download, I was actually impressed by the original gameplay and damn fine graphics. I would have called it the best freemium game out there had the makers not shot themselves in the foot while binding the players’ hands at the same time. But I can still recommend it as a game worth experimenting with for any Vita owner.