Eco-Creatures: Save the Forest is a hybrid. No, it doesn’t run on a combination fuel cel/electric battery pack. It’s a cross-hybridization of Chibi-Robo: Park Patrol’s re-forestation premise, Pokemon-esque creature evolution and Pikmin-ish group control and combat. If it were powered by an alternative fuel, it’d most likely be adorable squirrel power.
You play as the bipedal magical fruit and commander, Dorian, sent to the forest with hordes of colorful and talented "Wood Spirits" - aka magical beavers and squirrels - to dispatch an army of robots and the mechanical, environmentally destructive monstrosities (aka apartments) they've created. When your cute troops have some mid-mission down time, they can plant trees to help bring back the green and spawn a few more buddies. Between battles the Spirits enjoy walks in the woods and overly repetitious multiple-choice mini-games.
Initially, sending woodland creatures to tail-swat and fatally nibble mechanical opponents, dance around sprouts, build bridges and rearrange nature makes for a cute and enjoyable game. There’s also an undercurrent of complexity as Spirits develop individual personalities depending on how you play with them and the types of mana they are fed.
An hour or two into this game, however, you'll remember the expression, “It’s like herding cats,” and want to change it to, “It’s like herding squirrels.” As your forces grow, troop management becomes a frustrating combination of tiny icon tapping and drawing circles around an overcrowded, unorganized mass of animals. Only troops currently in view can be commanded, while others wander aimlessly to all ends of the battlefield. Even if you miraculously manage to call them all to attention, there’s not an easy way to keep the three spirit types separated.
As individual animals are downed, the slow-moving Dorian must return to a tree house to spawn individual reinforcements, a slow and pace-crushing task that interferes with the real-time battles and can make later levels last a half hour or longer. Dorian can cast a few powerful and forest regenerating spells but searching through the spell menu does not pause the game, so it’s often not to your advantage to bother looking. Also, two or three hits and he’s done. Even the lowliest of squirrels last longer than that.
To get you to suffer through the story mode’s faults, playing through will unlock several WiFi-friendly competitive multiplayer modes and a pretty hefty level editor. These are rather playable but ultimately cannot completely overcome the controls.
The game’s environmental message is rather well-intentioned: Keep out the trash, stop littering and plant more trees to help revive the forest and you’ll be rewarded with useful gems/mana to help level up your little buddies. The theme does seem a bit mixed up, however, when you have to destroy flowers just because they are stinky (sorry amorphophallus titanium) and beat up animals that are cranky, ugly or slimy (even if some later become friendly once de-polluted). Can’t all forest life just get along?
Eco-Creatures has a good core theme, cute characters, an interesting level editor and an hour or two of fun in it. Otherwise, its muddled approach to real-time strategy and mixed messages make it a gimmicky game that doesn’t quite succeed the way it was intended.
Mar 18, 2008