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27th Jul 2019 | 123 views
Relaxation is one of the most interesting purposes a game can have. Many games aim to be fun, sure, but lately with the enormous diversification in genres, and especially the growing importance of more artistic aspects such as story, art style, soundtrack… has games trying to convey a wide range of feelings and emotions: happiness, sadness, fear, anticipation, surprise, tension… Yet trying to reach a state of calmness through videogames is not that common. There are examples, of course, most of them heavily relying on a combination of simple gameplay with heavy aesthetics. Tetris Effect comes to mind, combining the classical puzzle game with a heavy stylish atmosphere and art style to envelop the players into its rhythm. Farm simulators like Stardew Valley and the Harvest Moon series also try this, by getting the players into the work routine of the countryside. Simplicity has to be the name of the game for this titles, and that’s where Microcosmum: Survival of Cells comes in.
Microcosmum: Survival of Cells is a strategy game made by Satur Entertainment and released in 2018. Before I start, I want to point out that this game has quite a bit of DLC, and I haven’t played it. I’ll discuss it more later on.
Microcosmum’s premise is really simple. You are a cell/colony of cells in a microscopic world, think the first stage of Spore, but much, much more simplified. For you to survive, you have to destroy other competing cells by attacking them and reproducing yourself. Cells are the basis of the game, your objective is to destroy the enemy while not being destroyed in return. You move around the map, slowly but surely, while dealing with antibodies. Each cell generates antibodies, which they are the main resource of the game. You can use them to attack enemy cells to take over their cell structure, or you can feed them to your own cells, which will make them bigger. The bigger the cell, the more resilient it becomes, and it will be able to generate antibodies at a faster rate. Cells are three sizes, small, medium and big. To attack the enemy cells, you throw the antibodies produced by your cells to destroy the competition. A big cell attacked enough will begin to lose health until it reverts to medium, and the same happens to the medium ones. Antibodies can be neutralized by the enemy’s antibodies, and they will generally act as a barrier to defend the cell, automatically moving to block enemy antibodies if they don’t have an order already. To destroy the cells, you have to get them while they are small. A small cell attacked enough will stop being part of the opponent’s colony, and will leave an empty cellular structure for you to conquer or ignore.
To spice up the levels, there are certain obstacles and twists in the levels. Some natural vegetation will naturally draw and eat antibodies, so moving around certain spots of the map might offer certain protection against enemy attacks, at the cost of making your cell static and eating most of your antibodies. There are the red antibodies, which don’t come from any cell, instead being a stage hazard that blocks parts of the map. They are not particularly hard to deal with, but there are levels where swathes of this red antibodies move around the map in such numbers they could kill entire cells by themselves. In fact, there is one level in the game where the player can instantly win because the AI will send the cells to move towards the player, and it will do it through a sea of this things.
That’s kind of it, really, this is not a game with a deep plot, or very deep mechanics. The game consists of 72 levels, each with a different number of enemies, obstacles and empty cells available. The maps vary in size quite a lot. For the most part they are appropriate for the level and number of enemies and empty cells available, but sometimes they end up being massive levels that have you move your antibodies quite far away, which takes time. There’s also a leveling up system: each time you win a round, you get a random bonus that you could use to increase your stats. You could improve the rate of cell growth, cell defense, cell movement and antibody movement. The most important two, cell growth rate and antibody movement, are quite broken, and will make most of the game pretty much unlosable. Cell defense and movement are fine, but the best strategies are offensive, so attacking should be the priority. Each won level will give you random bonuses, which can be added directly to the limited number of slots the game has for bonus buffs, or combined to make them more efficient. A regular white bonus will grant you seven points, a medium orange one will grant you thirteen, and the maximum blue bonus will give you twenty. You could divide joined bonuses to try and get alternative bonuses, but at the cost of a net loss in points. Fine if you have spares, bad if you don’t.
The difficulty is… too easy, honestly. Playing on the hardest out of the two settings, I swept through the game with little to no problem. There is a single level in which I struggle with, and it was because the enemy had six or seven cells from the get go against your measly two (plus, I feel like this game was made to mess with the AI). Other than that, the game is quite easy. Even a toddler can win them. I don’t put this against the game necessarily, because if you lost over and over again, the game would stop being relaxing. And that’s kind of the name of the game, honestly. The game tries its hardest to be relaxing. Chill but somewhat forgettable tunes, an art style that mimics underwater sea levels. The gameplay is somewhat repetitive once you discover upgrading your cells from the beginning is the best strategy no matter the situation. Never attack first, let your cells grow at maximum, then attack other smaller cells, capture them, feed the new cells until they are big, rinse and repeat. This will win you the game in more or less 9 hours, much less if you boost your skill at maximum (plus, it’s good to point out that the difficulty level is so small, I never needed to grind, which is fine?).
So, with too easy levels, repetitive and simple gameplay and an AI that will struggle sometimes to make decent strategies, why did I play this game to the end? I don’t know, if I think it logically, this game has glaring flaws, but I like the gameplay just enough to not annoy me. Besides, the game does relax me, it does that job well enough.
Though now we go for the DLC. Now, I get it. This is a small indie game from a small indie studio, but I feel they took things that ought to be in the game outright. Extra campaigns? Ok, sure, they can be considered extra content, but things like random levels and different colors for your cells? Why not add this from the start? Plus, this game is single player only, so no multiplayer. This game reminds me of those browser games, the likes of slither.io and agar.io, this would have been more interesting in big maps of many players, maybe with random hazards and obstacles. What we have is all right, though, but it has a severe lack of replayability. This is prime Steam sale material, you get it during a sale and they offer you the extra content once you’ve bought the base game, so the DLC business model probably works, but more base features would’ve given this title a lot more staying power.
Microcosmum: Survival of Cells is an interesting premise cut by a simplistic gameplay and a severe lack of content. There is potential in this, though, and I wonder if this game could be converted into a mobile game. The format seems to fit well enough, though they would probably have to revise the control scheme. As it is, it’s fine, one of the many games that you may pick on an impulse buy and not regret, even if you think it wasn’t that good looking back.