Earthtongue, an ecosystem simulator

You find yourself on a new world without a sun, with minerals occasionally raining down to sustain life on the planet. The life on the planet is exclusively fungi and insects, who all struggle and co-exist within this strange new ecosystem. Thankfully, you aren’t one of those freaks that want to go to space to deep mine planets and ruin ecosystems, but an observer. While you can occasionally intervene to help keep the ecosystem going, you can only sit back and watch as life thrives and withers.

Earthtongue is a game by Critterdust with music by D. W. O’Boyle. In this game you look over a simulated ecosystem and try to keep it running as long as possible while making it as vibrant as you can. Or maybe just sit back and let things unfold.

For a simulation game, you actually have very little power. After a certain amount of time, you earn points that allows you to make interventions to the ecosystem, either introducing new insects or fungi or creating weather. At times, this may be required. For instance, you have a lot of herbivorous insects but they’re going through plant-life really fast, so you may need to quickly introduce a carnivorous insect like a mantis to keep things afloat. Besides the resource based interactions, you can click and drag living creatures to bring them to areas of the map that could better sustain them or save them from predators.

Besides, it’s one of those games where the story makes itself. In fact, if you’re lucky, some species can immigrate to your world on their own without needing your intervention. As the simulation of an ecosystem, the game can take care of itself once it reaches some form of stability. And as with ecosystems, everything in it interacts in interesting ways and part of the experience is figuring out how each insect and fungus acts and if they can co-exist.

When I first played, I had a small population of rhino beetles feeding off of this pink mold. A species of snails once existed alongside them, but they died out, presumably because the rhino beetles ate up all the food. To the side, a species of spiny slugs tried to thrive but eventually died out, living long yet lonely lives. I played around, looking after smaller species off to the sides, until I eventually racked up a lot of intervention points.

With that power, I decided to check out what the most expensive weather event was. The result was a rain of meteors that wiped out nearly all life on the planet. Such is the hubris of man.

The flames soon faded and the land started to recover, with the ground fertilized with the dead. There was an area where sundew mold, a type of fungi that looks like a field of flowers, flourished. By sheer coincidence, a coned snail immigrated to that area (how random bugs immigrate to your planet without intervention, I don’t know). As it happened, the coned snail is the ideal insect to live where sundew mold is, as it can not only resist its detrimental effects, but can spread the spores onward. For a bit, I looked away, trying to revive my spiny snail species, and when I came back, there were more coned snails, with a whole meadow of sundew mold.

Things continued escalating from there and soon there was a huge field of sundew mold – along with a field of bodies. These bodies helped give nutrients to the ground, ensuring that a mere rain will keep the area healthy for the mold. But at some point, I thought, man, there’s just too many bodies. I experimented a bit and found that roaches and flies could eat corpses, which led to small yet healthy populations of corpse eaters.

But I then found that even then, there’s just too many coned snails, and I feared that even with the vast amount of moss, they could eat all the food and starve to death. So, I introduced carnivorous mantises to the ecosystem. For a time, they flourished, chomping on passing bugs that weren’t fast enough to get away. There was a period of stability, but hilariously, the mantises ended up getting buried in too many corpses and were unable to eat proper living prey, so they died out.

Meanwhile, I decided to introduce spiders to the ecosystem and thought that putting it near dead bodies would be ideal for it. In a way, it was, because the flies were attracted to the dead bodies. And so, the fly population pretty much went extinct. Whoops. C’est la vie.

As the game progresses, you unlock notes in your research journal. General notes, covering your character’s observations, seem to be unlocked by time and cultivating a flourishing ecosystem. You can unlock notes on each individual species if you keep them alive for a long time, as proof of their existence. If a long-lived species dies out, they also leave behind a fossil, which can generate minerals when clicked or give inspiration for a lot of intervention points if destroyed.

Earthtongue offered two other maps, with different themes and creatures. The second map abandoned the somewhat realistic feel of the first map for fantastical creatures. I watched as fly like creatures flew across the screen and multiplied by planting themselves in the ground and growing fresh new selves, the map covered in stalks as if the creature itself was a fungus. As they flew around, creatures called nightmares hobbled around the map, capable of scaling any wall in pursuit of their meal. The research journal abandons the research study tone of the first level in favor of reading more like fantasy vignettes.

The third map in the meantime was Halloween themed, with spooky yet bright aesthetics and creatures. I didn’t play this mode very much, but a flying skull did wipe out my species of sludge creatures, so that’s cool, I guess. Meanwhile, the game does have modding potential and suggests you check out the Steam workshop; how itch dot io users can access this stuff, I don’t know. There’s only a few player-made maps, though one of them is a really cool Metroid-themed one that I’m sure someone will get a kick out of.

These kinds of games aren’t normally my thing. In fact, I have no idea why I even have this. Maybe it was from that big itch dot io bundle whose proceeds that went toward the ACLU months before they defended the right for the Charlottesville Nazis to hold their event. Wow, sure am glad to have bought that bundle.

However, I do think that Earthtongue is interesting. Not my thing, but interesting. I prefer having more control of things in simulation games, but not gonna lie, seeing that flowery mold spread out and the coned snails multiplying was just so satisfying.

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