A WDesm review for XBoxHornet
“A cult classic retrofitted for a new console”
Darwinia is a virtual “digital world” where the inhabitants, the crude, single-polygon Darwinians, are innocent civilians. As the game begins, Darwinia is being overrun by a dangerous virus, and Darwinia’s creator, a Dr. Sepulveda, recruits you to save the day. From that charming start, your voyage into Darwinia’s unique gameplay begins.
Darwinia has been described as a Real Time Strategy (RTS), a puzzle game, and even gets reference as a “God game” or a “throwback to hackers” (indeed, Darwinia+ comes with a hilarious variety of intro screens, and even if you just try the demo, watch a few of the intros…I won’t spoil the surprise, but they are worth it!). Its variety isn’t misplaced either – this cult classic is a diverse and in-depth gameplay experience, and its presence on XBLA is a benefit to all of us.
The game starts off with a gentle tutorial, explaining how to control the Darwinians – each level requires that you babysit the civilians, while earning and researching upgrades to tackle new problems/claim territory and, of course, stop the viral threat. For those coming over from the PC market, the controls do take just a little getting used to, but I found them to be simple enough to get the hang of once I had cleared the first two levels, and those new to Darwinia+ shouldn’t even miss a beat. Once the tutorial levels are done, the gameplay evolves even further, becoming an even deeper and more elaborate system of objectives, multi-mission goals and events that need attending to – while the game is never nightmarishly difficult, there is always something to do, and you’ll feel yourself both engaged and relaxed as you sink deeper and deeper into the couch potato slouch.
Artistically, this game is in a league of its own. The graphics are a herald to the 1980s computer concept of neon lights, hard edges, and smooth shapes (if you’re thinking Tron or Rez, then you’re on the right path), and they look fantastic. The audio is likewise retro-flavoured, and while the combat noises are a little too harsh for my tastes, they certainly do remind me of that nostalgic 80s flavour.
If for some reason all of the above creativity and mental stimulation doesn’t sate you, and you’re hankering for a more bloodlusty solution, then rest easy, because I’ve only covered half of Darwinia+’s offering: The game includes Multiwinia, the multiplayer evolution of Darwinia, with full Xbox Live and party support. With six different games modes (ranging from the traditional ‘kill everyone and win’ model to the exotic ‘fuel a spaceship, man a spaceship, fly a spaceship’ challenges) and the ability to play with CPU bots or your friends online (or even just find a quickmatch for an anonymous trouncing), your enjoyment of Darwinia+ could easily outlast your Xbox 360 itself.
Darwinia+ isn’t perfect, and I’ll admit that I still find map movement a little wonky even after putting substantial time in, but it’s damned close. Considering the high quality content inside it, the variety of gameplay options, and the uniqueness of the offering, I’m surprised it’s not being offered at twice the price – it would certainly worth it.
Game Score 9.5/10
Download a free trial of the game here.