With growing concern over global warming, mass over-industrialization, deforestation, pollution, and other major problems facing the world at present, a kid-friendly DS title that hinges on increasing awareness of important environmental issues is a great idea. Majesco’s Eco-Creatures: Save the Forest is not quite the first game to touch on issues of environmental concern, but it certainly covers far more ground than the few other similar games available. Furthermore, the positive message doesn’t come across as contrived or insincere. It approaches a range of serious topics from a unique angle that’s relevant to adults yet palatable to younger gamers.
Beneath the adorable light-hearted fantasy presentation of real-world issues, Eco-Creatures is an excellent real-time strategy game that holds up well even against other recent RTS titles on the DS like Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings and Heroes of Mana. The game also packs in loads of charm with a colorful presentation, cute characters, and an interesting story. It’s an equally enlightening and entertaining addition to the DS’ roster.
At the start of this eco-adventure, Mana Woods – a serene realm where wizards, woodland creatures, and spirits could once co-exist in harmony – falls onto troubled times. The neighboring “evil” kingdom has taken to messing up the cheerful status quo for the forest denizens by mucking up their rivers, chopping down their trees, scattering the green landscape with foul factories, and sending robotic servants to propagate heinously polluting industry. You’ll play as a giant, lovable spiky-fruit wizard in training named Dorian who must rally the forest’s creatures to mount a resistance against the mutated and mechanical forces of the invading kingdom and restore the damage caused to the environment. Once the story gets rolling, you’ll find there’s more to the invaders than meets the eye. Plenty of funny and serious moments alike can be found scattered throughout the goofy adventure.
Eco-Creatures offers a slightly different take on the RTS format that’s actually quite manageable once you’ve had an opportunity to play around with it. Dorian is large slow-moving avatar players control directly via the d-pad. The camera follows his movements, so he serves as the focal point for exploration and combat as you move through areas of the map. Dorian’s primary role is that of a support unit, since he can’t attack foes directly. Collecting power-ups, planting trees, and defeating foes will earn the little guy extra mana reserves which can be used to cast a range of helpful spells. On his own he’s vulnerable to attack, but most of the time players will be sure to keep him surrounded by a horde of furry pals that are often more than happy to charge into battle for him.
All of your troops fall under three main species which are controlled with the stylus. The Ecolis are pink basic squirrels who are good fighters, and their synchronized dances grow unique trees used to summon additional units. The blue Ecomon are flying squirrels who are a bit timid in battle, but they can travel over different terrain levels and also carry objects around the battlefield. Ecoby, orange beaver-like creatures, are useful for quickly demolishing enemy structures or building helpful ramps and bridges on the map to reach new areas. With a quick tap or two it’s possible to select all units in the immediate vicinity and command them to follow Dorian, or you can tap colored buttons at the corner of the screen to select only one species at a time. Also, units can be selected individually or circled in small groups. Once selected, groups of units can be set to attack enemies, use special abilities, defend a location or stick close to Dorian with simple stylus commands.
Control-wise, you’ll still run into a few of the qualms frequently bestowed upon RTS titles: troublesome path finding, occasional difficulties in managing larger groups of units, and the propensity for units to wander when not under your direct command. The latter is perhaps the bigger issue of the three, but it’s easily solved by replacing lost units or keeping tighter reign over your army. In this case the complaints are minor, and the solid game design holds up well. Combat is frequently a game of bait-and-switch. You’ll end up frequently using Dorian to entice enemies into pursuit only for them to be tackled and obliterated by a swarm of chattering squirrels waiting nearby. There is a decent variety of enemies of different sizes, shapes, and types, and the boss battles are quite clever.
Mana is the primary magical resource in the game; it powers your ability to summon troops and use of the various spell abilities in the game. Your mana meter slowly regenerates on its own, but it can be hastened by collecting power-ups scattered around the map, leftover from fallen enemies, and dropped by recently grown trees. When enough mana is raised, units can be summoned at the mana house that serves as your home-base on each mission map. Your woodland army will grow over time as more tree varieties are planted. In-between battles, you can use collected mana drops to boost a unit type’s level, defense, power, and speed. Meeting certain stat and level benchmarks will cause your creature to evolve into a new variety of its species. You can also increase your overall numbers to substantially high levels by planting frequent trees to bulk up your forces. Every tree you plant also goes towards your overall “greening” percentage which unlocks new abilities as it increases.
Eco-Creatures is a good time overall, and the main campaign is reasonably lengthy. New enemies, scenery elements, and objectives are thrown into the mix from time-to-time to keep the somewhat repetitive gameplay from dragging, and the enticing story helps propel the game forward during lulls in the action. Unfortunately, most of the time playing a mission is simply a matter of amassing a large force and heading out to take down groups of enemies before they cut down too many trees or come to destroy you personally. It’s still endlessly fun to watch dozens of squirrels pounce angrily on robot drones to tear them to bits in a matter of seconds. Continually upgrading your units, seeking to green-up the land, and earning new abilities also adds another level of fun complexity to the title. A host of multiplayer options are available for those who want to save the environment with a friend, and you can even create your own full-blown levels with the build-in Land Make editor.
The eco-friendly message and cute, cushy exterior make this game an easy-sell to parents wanting to hook their kids up with something a little more wholesome than your average beat’em up, but Eco-Creatures: Save the Forest packs enough substance to hold up under the scrutiny of those whose gaming tastes lean towards the more mature end of the spectrum.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
Bright, colorful, and adorable through and through. 3.8 Control
Wide range of control options work great overall, despite a few small trouble areas. 3.4 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The sound effects are cute, but the music quickly becomes repetitive. 4.0
A deep and varied overall experience for a handheld RTS title.
3.8 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.