Developers often draw upon nature as an inspiration for their games. After all, we all see nature every time we go outside. It’s ingrained in our subconscious; it’s one of the four literary conflicts (man vs nature), so why wouldn’t it also have it’s place in our video games? (picture above is Gaia from God of War)
For example, Shigeru Miyamoto took inspiration from the caves he explored in his youth when designing The Legend of Zelda. And that exploration aspect really framed the original game – which then became a series and inspired many other action-rpgs.
(The Legend of Zelda series provides the excitement of searching caves for items and loot on our quest to save the Princess.)
But in Miyamoto’s case, the inspiration was subtle. Nature – in these games – is a mysterious cave, the overworld landscape, and the water that blocks Link’s path. Nature isn’t always just passively the environment. In many legends, she’s Gaia (or Mother Earth) – a personification of the planets vitality, mother to the gods. In this humanoid guise, she may orchestrate the defense of the wild or the planet as a whole.
Nature, abstractly or not, represents a force of balance against the encroachment of civilization into the primal landscape (traditionally given voice by the Druid class in classic computer and console role-playing games). When not content to wait passively, Nature becomes an antagonist (represented by evil elementals, storms, and lava) and wears the mantle of chaos.
When more peaceful, Nature may ask you, her subjects, to defend the land from an alien force (such as a evil meteorite or extraterrestrial creature invasion). In these cases the character enlists as a direct avatar or some agent of change in a conflict between order and chaos.
(Gaia from the NES Captain Planet and the SNES Illusion of Gaia)
But it’s not always the case that nature represents this pro-Earth conservation theme of maintaining the balance between civilization, destroying forces, and the wild. Sometimes, when a game is based around nature or some natural creature, we just end up with a highly imaginative, if not completely bizarre creation. And that’s the subject of this article for today. While some of these games we’re about to look at are well-polished gems, others are creative yet interesting train-wrecks.
Ecco the Dolphin Series (Sega Genesis)
Ecco is a regular dolphin, swimming through a normal ocean bay until his fellow dolphin friends are abducted by an alien species known as the Vortex. It’s up to you to play as Ecco and rescue his friends as you explore underwater. What makes this game weird? Well, for starters, you’re a dolphin that fights aliens..
(The aliens in this game seem to come straight from H.R. Giger / Aliens)
This game, being an action-adventure game, has nice controls (though a bit frustrating at first) and gorgeous visuals and sound (at least for its time). There’s sort of a science-fiction element to the game as well (what with an magical double-helix entity dolling out powers to a dolphin). This game was successful enough to launch a series, but the games vary wildly in content and quality.
What makes this game intriguing is the game’s theme and atmosphere. When you first start, everything is cheery and bright. Then, as mentioned, the Vortex suddenly arrives and sucks up all your friends, leaving the water lonely and eerie. It’s up to you to investigate and determine how to save them.
As you’re an air-breathing creature, you must, at intervals, return to the surface or find a pocket of air to survive. So there’s a sort of a survival element to the game as you press on further.
Kolibri (Sega 32X)
Kolibri is the scientific name for the hummingbird. Whenever I tell my friends about this game, they – at first – refuse to believe that I’m serious. In this game you play a hummingbird that has been given the remaining power of a sentient space crystal – allowing you to shoot energy beams as you battle against other evil-crystal-empowered creatures.
That’s basically the game in a nutshell. Other than the natural settings and enemies, this game is a typical side-scrolling shoot-em-up. While it’s an uncommon Sega 32X title, it’s still not terribly hard to acquire and decently priced (though it’s really more for collectors than casual gamers). It also requires the Sega 32X to play. While it looks awesome, it can be somewhat dull to play. It is certainly unique enough to warrant a try though (though perhaps on an emulator before buying).
Electroplankton (Nintendo DS)
Based on the oceanic micro-creatures, plankton, Electroplankton is a very neat and unusual music-based game for the Nintendo DS. Calling it a game is a little bit of a stretch. It’s more of an interactive experience or a music generator.
The title received good reviews, but didn’t sell well as far as I know. So, unfortunately, it’s sort of uncommon in the US. Luckily, it’s much more common (thus affordable) in Europe and Japan for those willing to import (the Nintendo DS doesn’t have country restrictions).
The premise is that you are composing music with your stylus after selecting a type of plankton. It’s a very neat title to own and the packaging is also very neat.
E.V.O.: Search for Eden (SNES)
This is a loosely evolution-based game in which Gaia, the Earth spirit, guides your character through different eras in time. Thought it would seem like an RPG, this is really more of an action game with RPG elements. You gain experience (evolution points) by defeating enemies and can use the points to evolve parts of your creature.
The overall goal is to defeat unnaturally evolved creatures (transformed by crystals from outer space) in order to restore the natural order. Unfortunately this game is rare and expensive, so you might want to just emulate it. It’s very fun and worth your time though.
Seaman (Sega Dreamcast)
Seaman is a game for the Dreamcast that involves the evolution of a water pet that starts out as a freshwater fish. It’s really more of a life simulator than a game with goals. The game uses the microphone attachment for the Dreamcast and at some point the creature is voiced by Leonard Nimoy. It’s a very unique and odd game with sort of a cult following these days. While it’s certainly not for everyone, it is definitely worth a look.
L.O.L.: Lack of Love (Sega Dreamcast)
This is a rather quirky Japanese game where you are placed on a planet by an alien race that is terraforming it. The goal is to survive and to interact with the other life forms on the planet as you evolve (sort of reminiscent of E.V.O. though less focused on the action). This is another one of those “experience” sort of games, so you have to go into it with the right mindset to enjoy it.
This game is sort of preachy with its message in my opinion but can be forgiven with the style and gameplay. Unfortunately, it’s kind of rare (also being a Japanese exclusive) and, at the same time, in high demand by collectors. Both of these factors mean that it’s going to cost a bit to acquire it (and you’re going to need a Japanese Dreamcast to play it). It’s a fantastic concept and definitely worth checking out – though perhaps through watching a play-through until you’re sure it’s for you.
Mr. Mosquito (PlayStation 2)
As the name implies, in this game you control a mosquito that occupies a Japanese house. Your mission is to stealthily acquire blood from the family members in the house. If you’re found out, you can hit pressure points to escape being hunted.
(sometimes this game seems more like pervert simulator than mosquito simulator)
The game is controversial in that the protagonist is a pest that still brings harmful infections (malaria for example) to many parts of the world. However, it’s also a creature that exists in North America and Japan (countries this game was released for) without this deadly connection. Instead, we view the mosquito as a pest – and that’s exactly how he’s portrayed in this game.
Mr. Mosquito is a very unique and neat kind of game. It’s also easy to acquire, so I recommend checking it out – for a laugh with friend if nothing else. There’s also a sequel: Mr. Mosquito 2 (though only released in Japan).
Goat Simulator (Steam)
How could I not mention Goat Simulator in this list of quirky nature titles? This game is really meant as a funny joke, but even going into it with that knowledge, it just boggles the mind how awesomely ridiculous it is. In it, you’re an immortal goat, able to destroy and cause mayhem in a contrived world set up with numerous gags.
It’s certainly not a realistic game, but it’s a lot of fun. You can destroy walls and gas pumps by headbutting them or get ran over by cars and simply shake it off as you get back up. I suppose I could say the goat personifies a chaotic, vengeful nature, looking to rain down terror upon the civilization of a small town through a goat avatar. But that’s giving this game way too much credit. This is meant as mindless fun and it serves that purpose perfectly. If you’re looking for a short, ridiculous bit of fun, be sure to check this out.
Well this wraps up a look at some weird nature-inspired games that are of interest. Let me know what else is out there with this same theme that you find interesting. And are any of these games among your favorites?