The weirdly delicate, strategically smart, haunting charm of Eufloria HD

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Mechanically, Eufloria is one of those quasi RTSs in which you scoot numbers around a bunch of nodes until you win. Except they’re not numbers. They’re weird bird things. When you look closely at Eufloria, it reveals the delicate sensibility of frail new life, whether its sperm fertilizing a veined translucent egg, a sapling pushing its way out of the soil, or new leaves budding from fractally generated branches. For its aesthetics and visual metaphors, Eufloria is unique and lovely. Even the music sounds like you’re getting a massage or contemplating the mysteries of the universe on peyote.

After the jump, like, wow, man, totally, but what about the game?

As an RTS on the iPad, Eufloria HD is one of the best for how well it’s been adapted from a PC game to a touchscreen, with convenient controls for rally points, scouting, filtering specific types of birds, and various other things you normally do with a mouse. It’s even got a fiendishly clever dial gimmick. Twirl your finger and handily finesse how many birds you’re controlling. This is a far more elegant RTS than, say, Autumn Dynasty, which tries to fit traditional RTS controls onto a touchpad to awkward effect. Try doing a cavalry charge in Autumn Dynasty. Oops. Now try sending a rapid response team of fast birds to a distant asteroid in Eufloria HD. Ahhh!

In terms of how you play, it’s also plenty smart on the strategy front. Don’t be fooled by the trippy aesthetic, or the slow pace, or the option to reduce difficulty, or the unlockables that you don’t have to unlock if you don’t want to because you can just enable them in the options screen. If you play Eufloria as a strategic challenge, it offers a lot of hearty brain food. For instance, let me show you something cool in terms of how the randomized levels play out.

Here’s an asteroid I’m trying to invade.

The circles in Eufloria are called asteroids, even though they don’t look like any asteroid I’ve ever seen. Each asteroid can support a certain number of trees. Some trees defend the asteroid from attack and furthermore grow powerful laser flowers. Other trees grow new birds based on the asteroid’s properties. You can even terraform asteroids to make specific kinds of birds. These are pretty meaty choices.

I don’t know the properties of the above asteroid because I haven’t scouted it yet. I don’t know how many enemies are defending. I don’t know the asteroid’s properties in terms of what kinds of birds it will grow. I only know its size, which determines the range it can send birds to attack other asteroids. That range is indicated by the thin circle extending out onto the map. The above unknown asteroid has a pretty good range. It’s been sending waves of enemy birds at me.

So how am I going to invade? By sending my own birds. But here’s the problem.

As you can see by the thin circle extending from my asteroid Frepalal (I didn’t name it that), I can’t reach my objective from here. Frepalal is too small. Let’s check my larger asteroid.

Nope, I can’t reach it from Pobener (I didn’t name that one either). My objective is just out of range. Let’s check the next asteroid to the southwest.

Nope. Instead, I’m going to have to swing around to the southwest to the next asteroid.

And then I’m going to have to hook back up to the east.

Meanwhile, the enemy asteroid can attack me with impunity, so I have to defend my asteroids while sending an invasion force around their hook-shaped approach. In a simpler game, I would just build up a mass of birds and steamroller over the entire map. In Eufloria, the size of the asteroids lend the map a very specific tactical flow. It reminds me of island hopping in the Pacific Theater of World War II where the size of the airbase was just as important as the position of the island.

But mostly, it reminds me of nothing but itself. Eufloria is as unique, languidly haunting, and eminently playable as any of Introversion’s brilliant Darwinia games. And now it’s also a perfect fit for the iPad.

4 stars