Free-to-play games are a common thing in the mobile market these days and, with them slowly making their way onto consoles and PC, it was only a matter of time before they started releasing on handhelds. While Ecolibrium isn’t the first for the Vita, it is the latest, and it seems to do what the majority of mobile games do - but in a far less convenient way.
In Ecolibrium, players are given a barren landscape, and a limited number of points with which to terraform it into a flourishing paradise. Points can be spent on vegetation and wildlife, with new creatures, plants, and ecosystem-changing gadgets unlocked as you progress. With only a certain amount of points and energy to spend from the get go, you’ve got to choose the best way to start off. If you’re not careful, the misuse of these original points can leave you struggling for the rest of the challenge.
After placing a few plants around to increase the moisture and mineral content of the land, you can start by creating the animals that will roam the environment. Every initial animal is created in a lab and spat out into the environment in adult form. When the conditions are right, your animals will start reproducing and become the food for the animals that outrank them in this crazy circle of life.
Every placeable item needs to have certain requirements met to flourish; animals need food and plants need decent soil. The nourishing and growing of your ecosystem, while also battling with nature to keep everything balanced, is what SCEE was hoping would keep you coming back.
While this doesn’t sound like the hardest challenge around, the fact that you can only place a few things at a time -- due to the limited challenge and laboratory points at hand -- is what stretches the game from being an hour long experience into a 24 hour one. This is where the tap and wait gameplay comes to a head.
Challenge points are finite, but they do refresh hourly and, should you happen to use them all up in trying to secure the right balance, it’ll take more than a few hours of waiting just to plant a new tree. You’ll earn more points every hour if your ecosystem is running well, but this genre was designed around encouraging you to pay so you don’t have to wait. At any time, you can purchase points / plants / animals with real dollars from the Ecolibrium store.
While purchasing in-game items in free-to-play titles isn’t new, it’s rare that you end up feeling that you need to spend real money to progress. The tutorials you’re given at the start seem to do little more than give you the absolute basics, and with no manual to be found it’s easy to spend your first 24 hours struggling to beat the very first challenge. Don’t take this to mean that the game has a high learning curve that’s aching for you to best it, it’s more a sign of the painfully slow progression the game deals out.
The entire game is played from a camera that can do nothing more than rotate on the spot. With a tap of one of the shoulder buttons, you can use the Vita as a virtual camera. Thankfully this can be turned off in favour of the left analog stick, as there’s only so much looking over your shoulder at that tree you planted that you can fit into a day.
Sure the graphics don’t scream free-to-play, but will you really turn it back on when it can take upwards of 50 seconds (depending on the state of your Vita) just to see you still don’t have enough points to spend on that item you need?
It’s hard to recommend a game like Ecolibrium to anyone but the most bored. If you have a mobile device you probably have numerous free-to-play games that look / feel better than this, too. While the message behind the game is sound, and the fictional animals and plants do set a nice scene, the delivery leaves little to desire.