A fantastic idea for a videogame turned into a boring slog thanks to aggressive monetization and slow gameplay loop.
World-building & Story
As you’re given your own ecosystem in Ecolibrium to develop how you wish, there’s no story or overarching plot here – merely a sandbox-style adventure where you try to balance the needs of a variety of plants and animals in one place.
Presentation & Sound
Unsurprisingly given StormBASIC’s pedigree (they created the impressive PS Mini Tehra: Dark Warrior), Ecolibrium is a good looking if somewhat simple Vita title that manages to effectively convey its central premise.
The in-game environments are purposefully sparse as you’re supposed to build them up with the flora and fauna of your choosing – but they do have nice little details like a central pond or far-off mountains. Once you’ve started populating an area, you’ll notice that creature designs are interesting – all fictional but based on real-world animals that potter around each area in a realistic enough manner to make things interesting enough.
At times it can be quite relaxing to observe your own little habitat and just watch everything go about its business – but that also makes Ecolibrium sort of boring to look at as very little is happening at any one time. At least the menus are better – like something out of a futuristic augmented-reality presentation, they’re easy to navigate around and fit the game’s tone well.
Sound – or lack of – is really what lets the presentational package down though. There’s absolutely no in-game music and the sound effects aren’t much to write home about either. It’s a lonely, dull audio experience which is very disappointing.
Gameplay & Content
What starts as a fantastic idea – managing the needs of your own virtual ecosystem – quickly devolves into a boring mess when you realise the structure is built around waiting or spending real-world money. I really wanted to like Ecolibrium, but it tried its hardest to ensure I had a miserable time.
You start off with a little tutorial which explains the game’s basics – you act as a god and influence an ecosystem by placing plants and animals, with the goal to achieve ‘balance’ and making it sustainable. This is done through various meters – there has to be enough vegetation and water (produced by plants) as well as minerals (produced by fungi), while herbivorous creatures need to reproduce fast enough not to be made extinct by predators. Managing this is no easy tasks but achieving ‘ecolibrium’ will award you points, which in turn can be used to purchase new items to put in your environments.
At first, I had a fairly enjoyable time playing. Sure, it was a little difficult to get to grips with the touchscreen-only menus and there are a lot of different ideas thrown at you early on which can be challenging to get your head around, but once you do everything works quite well. It’s what comes next that turned me off the game completely – waiting, and waiting, and waiting.
See, to build things you need to use ‘laboratory energy’, a finite resource which slowly refills over about 90 minute periods. If you create say, five animals, that’ll use all your energy and you’ll then need to wait for more to do anything else. It makes Ecolibrium a very hands-off experience as you have to keep putting it down and coming back to it to make any progress – which isn’t a lot of fun.
Everything is made worse by the fact there’s often strict time frames you’ll have to adhere to if you want your ecosystem to survive. For example, a pack of carnivores might hunt once every 23 hours but a herd of herbivores might reproduce every 24 hours – meaning they’ll go extinct unless you return and create new ones in that one hour window. Little things like this make playing a chore rather than something fun.
Now I completely understand this is a free-to-play title that needs to make money somehow, but the way it goes about this is far too aggressive. You can buy new plants, animals and boosts for your ecosystem as well as the ability to instantly refill your laboratory energy and pretty much all of these feel essential to get any enjoyment out of the game. It’s an example of F2P done wrong as you have to spend to enjoy the game at a basic level, which is surprising given StormBASIC got things right with their next Vita title Invoker’s Tournament.
You can play in challenge mode which sets you specific parameters to achieve, or just have your own free-form ecosystem to grow how you like which does at least provide a nice bit of variety. Still, when I came back to the latter after a few months away I found everything had been wiped out by a natural disaster event – which gave me no incentive to bother trying again.
Unless you’re willing to spend some serious real-world money, there’s very little to bother with here – Ecolibrium would have done much better as a paid title with more freedom to play around with its fairly clever systems, instead it settles for dull gameplay behind timers and the need to splash out to enjoy it.
While Vita could definitely use more simulation games, this really isn’t the way to go about it – Ecolibrium has a smart idea but suffocates it with obnoxious monetization and forced waits that manage to suck all the enjoyment of playing. This is a time sink that really isn’t worth it.