Earthtongue is one of the few games I can keep running in the background while writing a review on it. Every now and then I can alt-tab to check on my planet of mushrooms and bugs and, inevitably, watch something go extinct.

The game, out now on, is pretty much a sci-fi gardening sim. You play as a some sort of cosmic intelligence who has chosen to observe a sunless, rocky world. You are not omnipotent. You can only interfere with the world in a few ways: divine rainfalls, extra nutrients, gusts of wind and immigrating in fungus and bugs and moving them around.

The graphics and sound are very simplistic, but the design and colour scheme works well. The developer, Eric Hermit, has managed to use simple visuals to present a form of desolate beauty.

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This is what it looks like when everything isn’t dead

Don’t expect any magnificent trees or mighty mammalian beasts. Without sunlight your world can only support rather basic life, but the ecosystem can become surprisingly complex. The different fungi and bugs interact with the environment in many ways, and it can be difficult to keep a healthy network of life.

I will say that this difficulty is not all due to my incompetence. While one can spot if the ground is missing nutrients by the number of white dots in the soil, lack of water appears only as a slightly darker blue. If you are only looking at your planet occasionally it’s not easy to tell what your lifeforms need.

Indeed, I would appreciate more feedback in general. You unlock extra information about species if you can make them survive on your planet for a certain amount of time, but even then the little blurbs are pretty vague. Sometimes herbivores will die out right next to apparently suitable food. I often received messages telling me that a new fungus has immigrated to my world, quickly followed by another telling me the same species has gone extinct. A little more information about why particular interactions are occurring would help improve the experience.

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This picture shows a common occurrence that I like to call “The Pit of Bugs”

Perhaps my frustration was caused by me playing the game for review and trying to experience everything Earthtongue has to offer in a small amount of time. The game offers research journal entries when you reach certain milestones; having a certain amount of biomass, for example. I’ve been completely unable to see the entry for achieving maximum biodiversity as I cannot keep everything alive to even get close. I suspect, though, if you treat the game more like an interactible screensaver, it would be far more relaxing and enjoyable. It’s like being able to look through a portal to a far-away planet, and should be interesting for any (budding) exobiologists out there.

The game is available for a minimum of $4 on, or alternatively you can pay in Earthtongue fan art. Apparently it doesn’t matter if, like me, you are a terrible artist. It’s an interesting little scheme, and I am curious to see how many other indie devs will adopt something similar. You can find details about buying (either in money or masterpieces) here. It’s also on Greenlight here.

Earthtongue is not designed to be the most exciting, astounding experience you’ve ever played, but it is nonetheless lovely and fascinating, if slightly annoying at times. I think it’s going to be filed under “not for everyone” but if my description has you intrigued you should probably check the game out.

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I dislike sharing biographical information. I write reviews and occasionally rambling opinion pieces. I'm not sure why you'd want to learn about my life, it's rather dull. Erm... Is this enough for a biography?

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