Yes, Eco-Creatures is like Pikmin on the DS.
I've been following eco-creatures for a while in the news, not that there was much news about it.. When I first saw a preview of the japanese version of the game on dsfanboy.com I thought the game looked very similar to my favorite game of all time, Pikmin. The game was released in the States last week and there hasn't been any news about the game being good, nor have there been any explicit statements on game forums I read about the game being similar to Pikmin. I bought the game yesterday evening, and want to set the record straight for other prospective buyers about how similar to pikmin the game is.
The one review for the game I've seen is pretty much a non-review by Game Informer. The reviewer reviews the game as 3 out of 10 in about 100 words or less and complains that your protagonist can only sustain about 3 hits from monsters before he dies. That statement left me with the impression that the reviewer has not played pikmin, because it sounds very very similar to Pikmin. From the review it sounds like the reviewer was viewing his protagonist (who is significantly larger than the creatures you maneuver) as a strong ox he'd be able to battle with, and after playing the game I can understand how the confusion probably set in: you start with 2 creature sidekicks and 1 magic spell (a lightning bolt). Your creature sidekicks are initially very weak and almost useless in such small numbers, and your spell does quite a bit of damage, so it seems like the creatures are there to just help you while you're the one doing the damage. That can be a frustrating experience when you learn that 2 or 3 hits on your protagonist from an enemy will certainly kill you. I think the reviewer got it all wrong, so I'm going to write the review I wanted to see, the review that compares the game to pikmin and runs a bit longer than 100 words:
There are some early-gameplay spoilers in this comparison, so if you want to avoid the spoilers, here's the summary: Yes, eco-creatures is like Pikmin on the ds, and totally worth the buy if you're a Pikmin fan.
OBLIGATORY BOX ART
Your protagonist in Eco-Creatures is named Dorian. Dorian's a big yellow fellow who doesn't want to see his forest destroyed so he gets the forest creatures to help him fight off the encroaching evils of industrialists. It's sort of like the pikmin story line, but from a different point of view. Where olimar was an opportunist using the pikmin to re-assemble his ship and later bring in some revenue in Pikmin 2, Dorian is a creature of the forest who's trying to keep the forest alive and free of industrialist evil-doers who view the forest as an expendable asset they own and can do away with. The plot line in eco-creatures is predictable tree-hugging blah-blah, and the game lacks the dark humor I found in the Pikmin games, but the gameplay is the same: use hoards of specialized creatures to achieve your goals.
Like Olimar, Dorian can only sustain a few hits of damage before he's wiped out. Unlike Olimar, Dorian can die and be revived without having to restart the level. When Dorian dies, he respawns back at the home base. That can be a major setback if you're out in the field with bunches of creatures and suddenly you're zipped back to the other side of the level because you died, your creatures will be unsupervised and probably in trouble like they are in pikmin when you leave the pikmin to themselves.
In Pikmin 2 Olimar gained some new abilities, namely the sprays that would stun the enemy or make your pikmin run around like they were high on amphetamines. Dorian has magic spells similar to the sprays in Pikmin, except Dorian has about 10 different magic abilities. For example, the ability you start off with is a lightining bolt. The lightning bolt will easily wipe out enemies within the bolts range. Dorian learns more magic spells as time goes on, and the spells are handy, but limited by your mana.
The Creatures in Eco-Creatures are similar to pikmin, each creature has a certain ability and limitations. There are three creature types: squirrels, flying squirrels, and beavers. The squirrels build trees, but can't swim or climb up any walls to higher ground. The flying squirrels can carry things (such as bouncing devices that the non-flying squirrels can use to bounce to higher ground) and can fly up to higher ground without problem. The beavers build slopes against walls, and bridges over water. Some of the creatures are better at fighting than others, some can't swim, and all of them are very pikmin: if you leave them unattended they will wander and probably get themselves into trouble.
In Pikmin the home base is the landing area where you and the pikmin spaceships land. You walk your little guy under each individual pikmin spaceship's light beam, press a button and go to a menu system that lets you choose how many pikmin to pull out. The tedium in pulling out some red pikmin, then walking to the blue spaceship to put blue pikmin away, then walking back to the red spaceship to pull more reds out is annoying.
In Eco-Creatures this problem is solved in a great way: you have one home base, and no menu to pull animals out. Your home base is a big tree with tails hanging out of it (you can see it in the bottom left corner of the screenshot above). You'll see three tails on your tree once you've acquired all three types of creatures and pulling a squirrel out of the tree is as simple as tapping on the squirrels tail. You can easily and quickly summon all of your chosen creatures by tapping on the creatures tails quickly. The tail for each creature will dissapear from the tree when you've pulled all of your reserves for that type of creature out.
CONFUSION (How do I get more creatures?)
For me, there was some confusion in the first few levels of the game and I think this may have been where the Game Informer person got frustrated. There are tutorials that teach you how to play the game, but actually playing the first few levels left me scratching my head a little bit. The first two levels you play are very, very small and leave you with a final-fantasy taste in your mouth almost because you're not really sure what to do, and the game seems to be about just attacking enemies and killing them. In the first level there are a few sets of evil-doers that you can easily dispell with your lightning bolt, or you can pull your 3 starting squirrels out and spend several minutes ordering them to attack a evil-doer and then running away with Dorian so you don't get caught up in the battle and die. It becomes more frustrating when you realize you can only shoot one lightning bolt in the level without recharging your mana bar, and there's only 2 or 3 mana powerups sitting around in the level.
The secret is, like in pikmin, you're not supposed to go on the offensive from the get-go, you're supposed to take your time and build your troops, then attack when you've got the manpower. Your squirrels build trees. You can have one squirrel build a tree real slow like, or you can set 10 of them to work on the same tree and have it pop up in a matter of seconds. When a tree is built succesfully, a mana powerup will pop out of the tree, and one mana powerup is about enough power for one lightning bolt.
So you're sitting around in the first level waiting on 2 guys to build trees and praying that they will finish in time to get you enough mana for lightning before the next wave of evil-doers come at you. Thats where the second gameplay a-ha moment comes in, your squirels only have one build command: build a tree, but they can build different types of trees depending on the square of land you tell them to build on. If they build a tree on a patch of land with red flowers on it, one more squirrel will pop up in your home base. If they build in a patch of tall grass, a flying squirrel will be added to your ranks. Then, after the level is over, you are presented with a creature management menu that lets you add the new squirrels to your ranks permanently.
At first the creature management screen seems superfulous and counter-intuitive, but it becomes useful later in the game. Make sure you add your squirrels to the ranks in the manager after each level, otherwise you'll start the next level with the same number of creatures you had on the last level.
One tip for pikmin-brained players: I was so set in my pikmin-ways that I neglected to remember some of the fundamental RTSisms that don't apply in pikmin, but do apply in eco-creatures. For example in pikmin you can pretty much count on your guys finishing a task and then either standing in one place or wandering around and attacking monsters and getting themselves in trouble, but eco-creatures is fairly task oriented, which helps alot. For example you can tell order a group of squirrels to build one tree, then select them again and tell them to build a different tree, and keep on in this manner until you've layed out 8 trees for them to work on. Then you set the entire group to work on one of the trees, and they'll automatically start working on the next nearby tree once they've finished the current one. It works just like builders in other RTS games and it's great.
I've thought about how pikmin could be pulled off on the DS for a while. There was a gba demo-scene demo done by someone a few years back that showed a 2d overhead view demonstration of how a very simple pikmin game could work, but it was clear that the GBA had a hard time managing the 50 or so pikmin on the screen. On the gamecube we've got a limit of 100 pikmin in the field at any time. I figured that a pikmin on DS would have to severely limit the number of pikmin in the field and make them stronger or something, but apparently I was wrong. I read over on the gamefaqs forums that you can have a maximum of 30 creatures out, and I didn't read the statement clearly: I assumed they meant 30 creatures at a time. I was quite suprised to learn that it's not 30 creatures max, its 30 creatures per creature type, or 90 in the field at a time. Wow! The game experiences a predictable slow-down when you have 30 or more of the creatures on the screen at one time, but you can easily have 10 tree builders in one section of the level, 15 gaurding the home base, 20 following you, and the rest of the creatures wandering about without any slowdown at all. Color me impressed.
Some of the dynamics in eco-creatures are a bit different than Pikmin. For example, your creatures don't really die. If a squirrel is killed by an evil-doer, he respawns back on the homebase tree, so you can go back to homebase and get him out again. You never lose any creatures. If you start the level with 15 squirrels, you will end it with 15 (no matter if 10 of them were killed in the field and are sitting in the tree at the end of the level), unless of course you grew some trees and acquired some more squirrels. In Pikmin you can have 400 red pikmin in the red spaceship, 200 blues, and 100 yellows, but only 100 in the field at a time. In eco-creatures you can only have a maximum of 30 for any given creature type, and all 30 can be in the field for each of the three types at any time, so you never worry about having to put up some squirrels in order to pull out some flying squirrels.
There's a catch though: You do, however, have to worry about how much mana you have to pull squirrels out. That's right, you use mana power to pull out each squirrel. Every level starts you at your homebase with a mana powerup nearby, so you grab that powerup and pull out the 6 or 7 squirrels it will let you pull out, then you start those squirrels to building trees so you'll get more and more mana power to pull out the remaining creatures in the home base. One way to lose a level is to have your creatures killed and not remember to have squirrels build trees that'll leave mana powerups sitting around for you, your creatures will all respawn in the tree home base but you won't have the mana to pull any out or cast any spells, so you'll be waiting for an inevitable bad ending to the level.
CREATURE MANAGEMENT MENU
I mentioned the creature manager earlier. In pikmin your pikmin could grow stronger by eating some nectar, they'd blossom from leaves to flowers and be stronger or faster and what not. In eco-creatures you collect some powerups in the levels that get collected in an inventory, then you use those items to equip your creatures in the creature manager. Your creatures have 3 stats: defense, strength, and speed. Different powerups help different abilities. Like any RPG or RTS, your initial troops are going to be weak. It'll take several seconds for your initial 3 squirrels to take down a easy bad-guy, but once you beef them up with some powerups they'll be able to take the same bad guy out in one or two hits.
The entire creature group shares the ability points you've given to them. So you can throw 20 powerups into a group of 5 squirrels and have some bad-ass squirrels that have a level of 30 something and lots of strength and hitpoints because they're splitting 3000 experience 5 ways. Then you go play a few levels and spawn more squirrels, and suddenly your group of 15 squirrels are all level 22 squirrels because they're sharing the 3000 experience points that 5 were sharing before.
I don't think the creatures gain experience through battle or building or anything like that, it's only through your inventory management where you decide which powerups to give to which group. Also, your inventory can only hold 80 items at a time, after that you're just dropping whatever you pick up, so go into inventory every once in a while and divy up your spoils.
You grow trees in every level of the game and quickly eclipse the hard limit of 30 creatures per creature type. Thats where the creature manager comes in, you can have different sets of creature types. You can only have one squirrel class, flying squirrel class, and beaver class out at a time in a level, but you can have 4 different squirrel class sets, each with varrying abilities depending on the powerups you've fed to them. This is why you have to go into the management menu after each level, because later in the game you're going to be picking and choosing if you want more flame-breathing magic-missle-casting squirrels, or more beavers that can teleport. (btw, so far, I haven't seen any flame-breathing, magic-missile-casting, or teleportation creature skills, but I haven't finished the game yet..).
The first two levels in this game are crap. Have you played the GBA kirby game where each level is comprised of short segments that take perhaps 1 minute to blast through until you're waiting on another 1 minute segment to load? It's a lot like that. The first two levels are small square areas with unimaginative features and really give you that tactical rts "the terrain is not important" feel. But after those levels are over you quickly get into levels that are much bigger and much more imaginative and awesome. For example, in the screenshot above, you can see the entire 1st level on the top half of the screen in the map area, in the one below you only see a portion of the level map..
The levels don't play like pikmin levels, you're not noodling around in some big area where everyone minds their own business unless you get into their territory. Each level has a victory condition and a loss condition, usually the loss condition is that monsters kill your home base (remember that dorian and squirrels never really die..) or perhaps some other time-based evil-doer destroys something event. The win condition is generally to stop the bad guys from attacking the trees and dumping garbage and attacking your home base. I've only played 6 or 7 of the 40 levels so far though, so maybe the win conditions get more elaborate later on?
There aren't really multiple options in any of the levels I've played, you're not deciding on achieving an objective on the south end of the map versus a different objective on the east edge. Just complete the mission at hand, and when the condition for win or loss is met, the level's over. There isn't a time limit or anything, and I'm sorry to say it, but I miss the pikmin morning-to-midnight time limit
. It'd be awesome if you could delay the completion of some levels and spend your time building trees until the time limit's up, but you can't really do that. The only way to do that in this game is to isolate some of the bad guys from mission-ending objectives and keep your creatures from provoking the evil-doers while you build your trees and up your numbers.
On of the main questions I had about a Pikmin-like DS game was controls. The moving olimar with one joystick and sweeping pikmin with the other on the gamecube is pretty hard to top in my book, that control scheme is almost a state of zen for me. Eco-Creatures has done a great job though. You use the D-pad to move dorian around and the touch screen for pretty much everything else. Well almost everything else, you'll use the Y button a fair amount because it's olimars whistle (it calls creatures in your area to follow Dorian), and you'll be happy to know the R button rotates the camera (which never seems to find too-bad an angle, by the way..), and the L button switches between dorian and creature control modes. There's an icon on the bottom right of the screen you can tap on that switches modes like L too. When you're in dorian control mode, tapping on dorian will bring up his spells menu.
When you're in creature control mode you can draw circles on the screen to select creatures, or tap individual creatures, or select them by creature-type with some handy quick buttons on the top-right of the screen. The creatures can all defend, follow, or attack, and the three types have special commands. For example on the squirrels you select a squirrel, hit the special commands menu and you either select "build a tree" or you select "cancel", then you select the spot to build the tree. With the creatures selected you can click on a tree for them to defend the tree (including home base), or on an enemy for them to attack, or on dorian for them to follow (similar to pressing Y).
Like in Pikmin, You can only get the attention of creatures in your general vacinity, and the creatures without tasks will wander. Pikmin sort of stood still unless some stimulus was nearby for them to start playing with, but the eco-creatures actually freely wander around until they find something interesting which is a bit more realistic in my opinion. It's a bit more like herding cats, but pikmin was a bit like that anyway, that was part of the challenge and part of the fun
I've only played the game for one evening (for about 6 hours, mind you..), and I've only played about 1/4 of the levels, but I am very impressed by this game. It definitely has the first-party polish that a Nintendo game usually does, the visuals are very nintendo-cutesy and miyamato-imaginitive in style. The game, amazingly, handles 90 creatures in a level at any one time, and the levels are not as small as you'd think they'd have to be on the DS. There's a fair bit of slow-down to the game when you get too many things going on at the sametime on screen, which is inevitable giving the platform's limitations, but I'm glad the developers chose to leave the slow-down in rather than limit your total number of creatures in the field artificially due to the slowdown problem. Maybe in an eco-creatures 2 it'll be even more optimized and there won't be any slow-down at all?
Also, there's multiplayer, locally and on the nintendo wi-fi. I haven't played multiplayer yet because nobody's buying the game (or nobody who bought it was on at 3am central last night
), but if the multiplayer is any good then it'll be like icing on the cake.
The developers also included a level editor in the game, so you can make your own multiplayer maps, how cool is that?
Overall, this is the game I've been waiting for and dreaming about on the DS ever since I saw the touch-screen control. If you like pikmin, you will like this game. If you don't like pikmin, eco-creatures may very well be the 3/10 stars for you that the Game Informer reviewer gave it. For me though, this is a 10 of 10.
- DS Fanboy has the most coverage of the game.
- Some videos on youtube.
- The official site.
- Ign coverage (no review yet
- Metacritic reviews for the game, currently only has the Game Informer review.