Niche recipes with no eggs required:
The game could not have a better title. It’s not often you see a puzzle game where the main objective is to survive. There’s crafting even. Making nests. Making babies (eyebrow wiggle). Making friends of the opposite gender through foodie bribes to make said babies. I mean, it works. It gets deep too. When your first playable fuzzy kicks the bucket it shocks a bit. The game warns you they only survive so many days but you’re never really prepared. One day your happy lil fuzzball can only move one space and the next he’s graying on the temples and dead. He’s dead, Jim. He was greying because he’s a skeleton now. Groin check to the feels. Luckily the game is turn based so you can take a moment to light a candle and say a prayer for Slappy the cat-rabbit or whatever you named him. I made a sandwich but I’m also a jerk, so there ya go. RIP Slappycabbit.
Remember to coat the canvas in magic-white:
Visually there’s some polish but my main issue is a lack of anything to look at. The other animals have no idle animation which a creative dev could have a LOT of fun with. The active critter doesn’t stand to attention when selected. Joking from earlier aside there’s no visual que that the animal is of advanced age. It hits adult and just stops. The UI is clean and organic. It makes you explore a bit and that works to teach you how some parts of the game flow. You’re hardly given a reason to even move the camera beyond scrolling the map. I had a fun scare when my first critter transited from one day to the next and his head flipped upside down to face my cursor. Something every animal you can control does even in their profile model. It’s a noice touch but just eerie as all fuck.
Finding fish, cracking nuts and eying those berries:
The gameplay is simple which I find quite enjoyable. When you build a nest you just need 10 nesting materials and BAM it gets made. On demand. You don’t even have to wait for the next turn for it to appear. The beginning critters max out at three actions per day which is generous and helpful. They can shake trees, destroy grass, harvest food, attack prey, mate, dig and swim along with an assortment of unlockable abilities you can get through genetic manipulation. There’s the biggest crafting element. Genetics. As you grow your furry tribe you can alter the direction of their adaptations and evolve new forms through mating. The system is artistically simplified into a two prong tree arranged along a double helix (because genes) which allows you to switch what attributes you’re looking to introduce into offspring. Even if you manage to create an apex predator that is literally just one shoulder mounted gun away from being a Predator there is still many risks you take every turn. Not only are the critters short-lived when you start but there are negative status effects like bleeding. One of my animals even managed to get caught on a leech.
A dark wind blows but you’re still hungry:
Where a lot of indie titles shine is the music. Often an indie Dev finds an existing sound track from an indie album and contacts the creator to make an arrangement to use their arrangement. This is almost always mutually beneficial unless you contract someone whose name rhymes with Malice Cursor. Which would be an EPIC name for an EDM group or album. Sadly this is where Niche suffers most. The music is good. On par with even the better offerings on Itch.io. But it lacks punch and is far from memorable. In fact the song ‘Metal Squad’ from Thunder Force 4 is going through my head as I type because the music in Niche was that forgettable. As is the music is ‘just fine’. With some tweaking the score could be infectiously memorable and still match the game’s themes. As to the sound effects… while repetitive they do the job and do it well. Even triple A games like Skyrim or Sonic Mania suffer from sound effect burnout after a while. Some more variety would not go amiss. Not by a long shot. While the music might be bland enough to forget between mouthfuls of ham sandwich it is still very effective.
Summation in a box:
A game that very courteously fills its own niche while adopting the name as its own shows a lot of panache. Niche is a good game. Adding on some way of distinguishing adult critters from their senior counterparts would be appreciated so the player isn’t surprised their berry picker is a corpse the next morning. Idle animation would be a nice touch especially if someone particularly creative and humorous comes up with them. Spinning the island around and making the critters all dizzy for example. Now to think of it I never saw their backs and I know on a few I’d have loved to inspect their stripe patterns.. The gameplay is already rock solid and polished to a fine shine. The tutorial could be more detailed and better implemented but it is functional. Aside from that I can’t think of any improvements gameplay wise at all besides giving the option for some elective in depth tutorials for genetics. While the musical score suffers from fruitcake syndrome (you forget it’s even there until it’s time to decorate for the holidays) and the sounds become repetitious as quickly as pre-date notifications from an over-eager tinder hookup… they are all serviceable. The music could use a goosing in a new direction so it’s not as forgettable as the tinder hookup. On the whole I enjoyed Niche and would love to see it improve but the game is playable and enjoyable in its current state.
Verdict: 4 out of 7. Directly on par with everything an indie should be. Nothing more and certainly nothing less.