Enter the laboratory of feuding scientists Eli and Paul, one obsessed with plants and proper safety protocol and the other a free-wheeling fauna expert. When the pair gives you your own vivarium to control, the choices are yours. Will you play God and create new species? Observe evolution and learn more about DNA sequencing? Create mutant plants and colorful creatures to name and study? Follow set scenarios to advance the pair's research paths, or explore on your own in sandbox mode? The choices are nearly infinite in Creatura: Evolution Vivarium, a new title from independent developer Koksny.
In Creatura, players design a vivarium from the ground up, choosing everything from the type of sand to the clarity and pH of the water to the design of the tank. As time passes, the plants and aquatic animals inside the tank will evolve, reproduce, and even possibly mutate, creating new, never-before-seen types of flora and fauna. Players can analyze the DNA of their new creations and even give them names, storing their scientific knowledge for future generations. In expert mode, they can even alter DNA and create new specimens using gene technology. Pre-determined scenarios give players specific research objectives to achieve, while free play mode allows players to create their own vivarium and watch it develop over time without any particular goals.
Now That's Edutainment!
The first thing I'd like to highlight about this game is simply how much I learned while playing it. Creatura is based on genuine principles of real-life genetics and evolutionary science - not a topic that I, as a game journalist, am particularly knowledgeable about or encounter much in my daily life. Still, despite being a novice in the subject, I was able to understand the lessons Creatura taught about genetics, and came away after only a few hours of play with much greater knowledge and a genuine desire to learn more about the subject by playing even more.
I genuinely feel that Creatura is the type of game that could be used in classrooms as a teaching tool. It approaches evolution from the ground up - you start with algae and sponges before gradually moving on to nightshades (which, as I learned, is a common term for many types of leafy plant!), flowering/fruiting species, fish, crustaceans, and even amphibians. The game also features a robust tutorial system for which I was extremely grateful - it takes you through each part of the experience step by step, starting with basic controls and building up through taking plant cuttings, adjusting pH and keeping the water clean, and finally sequencing and editing DNA. Without the tutorials, I would have felt as "lost at sea" as my vivarium's residents - but with them, even a novice scientist like me was able to create mutant plants of my very own!
What a Wonderful World
In addition to being a fun educational experience, Creatura boasts a bright, colorful aesthetic that is truly pleasant to look at. The potential mundanity of "watching plants and animals in a tank" is mitigated by the wide variety of colors available for the plants and the adorable, almost googly-eyed, designs of the worms, fish, and other animals that later populate the tank. I thoroughly enjoyed setting myself various color-related challenges in sandbox mode, such as creating a vivarium with plants in every color of the rainbow or getting from green fish to purple fish in a certain amount of time.
I also appreciated the many fun options available for decorating the tank. As you progress through the game, you can earn rewards such as new rock and wood formations, new tank designs and pieces, and even toys for your animals to play with. This allows each vivarium to have a truly unique feel, and provides incentives for continuing to play and try new things whether you are in free play or scenario mode. Sometimes, you can even have surprise locked chests deposited into your vivarium, filled with a variety of unexpected rewards. My personal favorite reward I collected while playing was an alternate tank style that made my vivarium look like an old vintage PC monitor!
Life (Slowly) Finds a Way
Pretty much the only complaint I had with Creatura - and it is a very mild one - is that sometimes, even at the fastest speed, it can be a bit of a slow game. Evolution takes time, after all, and waiting for fish to emerge or a plant to develop a mutant colored leaf can be a bit of a tedious process, even with the ability to speed up time significantly. In scenario mode, this is mitigated by amusing dialogue from the two scientists, who are often unable to put aside their rivalry even for the sake of discovery, but, in sandbox mode, it can get a little dull. Creatura is a pretty good idle game, but you might want to play it with some music or a podcast on in the background if you're just messing around waiting for new species to spawn.
The major issue I had with regards to the game's pacing is how difficult it is to earn money compared to how expensive most items are to purchase. Money is made by selling plant cuttings from your vivarium, but most plants are worth only a few coins, and you have to pretty much be constantly taking cuttings if you want to turn a profit. On the other hand, most items in the Store cost hundreds or even thousands of coins - especially, and most frustratingly, the keys you need to unlock all-important treasure chests and obtain the rewards inside.
Overall, though, the difficulty of earning money and occasional slow pace of the game does not detract from Creatura as an enjoyable, educational experience. I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about genetics or evolution or who simply needs some colorful plants and fun-looking fish in their life.
Kate played Creatura on Steam with a code provided by the developer.