If you've ever been fascinated by an ant farm, you'll probably like indie developer Eric Hornby's Earthtongue. As he explains via the game's website, "EarthTongue is a vivarium sim that places in you limited control over a small ecosystem on a fantastical world."
Available for both Mac OS and Windows, Earthtongue is a charming little sim game that works as a great time-passing method to run in the background, though its needy creatures sometimes require more care than you're able to give without babysitting.
Minimalism Wins In This Sim Game
As the player, you are a space explorer who has recently landed on a new world and dream to see it filled with diverse life forms. Nutrients fall steadily from the sky and an occasional rain shower helps promote the growth of fungus, which feeds the bug population. By using a mechanic called "interventions", you can change the weather or import new bugs or fungus, allowing you to manipulate and customize the biology of your new planet. There are codices for each bug and fungus to help you keep them alive, but, realistically, they are only unlocked once you've been able to sustain a population for a certain amount of time.
The game itself is fairly simple. Like any unique sim game, there are shades to what you can do—while some players like to micromanage and oversee every small action that takes place, others prefer to sit back and let nature take its course. In Earthtongue, either course of action is acceptable. The game will play itself if you prefer to let it run in the background, though you may suffer some occasional losses of fungi or bugs, but a fast-forward mechanic also allows you to constantly watch over and ensure the optimal health of your new biome.
Earthtongue Lacks Diverse Levels
While the fast-forward feature does allow you to pass the time a bit quicker, Earthtongue still isn't the kind of sim game that makes you want to invest all your time and energy into it. While it can be fun in small doses, it's not a large game—though each world's layout is different, they all support the same kinds of life and the background scenery never changes. Simplicity isn't a bad thing in a game like this, and it doesn't significantly hamper the replay value, but for people who prefer the excitement of more fast-paced sim games, Earthtongue might feel like a bit of a bore.
There is a lot to appreciate, however. The game is rendered in a retro pixel art style, with lots of bright colors on dark backgrounds to really make the planets and fungus pop. It isn't super sophisticated, but in a game with simple mechanics, it gets the job done.
Despite Simple Gameplay Mechanics, This Sim Game Isn't Easy
It's also not as easy as you might expect from a vivarium sim game. The alien world you inhabit is a harsh one, and it will require significant amounts of intervention to keep your fungi and bugs alive. Though nutrients fall constantly from the sky, they don't always fall where you want them to and rain showers are infrequent. Once you start introducing more complex ecosystems, you have to keep an eye on how your grazer bug populations are affecting the fungi populations, and whether you have enough carnivorous bugs to keep the herbivores in check.
The game doesn't readily hand you information and may seem opaque, especially at first. As you continue to play, fungi descriptions remain unlocked, allowing you to keep them alive longer thanks to having more information. Though the descriptions are vague, experimenting with different techniques is part of the game's appeal. When you think you've got it all figured out, the immigration of a rogue locust can throw a wrench in your carefully managed biome, necessitating a new strategy.
Earthtongue isn't for everybody. It has a somewhat steep learning curve for a sim game and treads a thin line between not needing enough attention to keep it interesting and needing too much to run in the background. But for people who want a cute little game to keep them occupied while doing something else like watching TV or working, Earthtongue is a fun distraction.