Disclaimer: This review is not from an objective point of view and may contain a lot of bullshit. Niche is a Survival Genetics game where you controls a tribe of “foxes” and try to survive in nature.
I played on hour and a half of Niche. I had the pleasure to test it at gameZ (was not the same version) where I started 5 games and died way too quickly. The early game was hardcore, too much to give me any fun. Superficially, I would put Niche between the 4x genre (Civilization) and the tactical-RPG genre (Fire Emblem). When I start a new 4x (for example Endless Space), I always directly start a game just to learn. Quickly, I see my mistakes and then I start a new game where I master the game, ready to fight against my friends. So, you can see my frustration when after 5 new starts, I still don’t manage to master the early game.
But that was not the IGF Submission version of Niche. I played the tutorial and died… very quickly, which was to be expected from my earlier experience. But then I started a new game and… I had two carnivore “foxes” and I just crushed through the early game (I started in the middle of the snow). That’s where the micro-management of the tribe began to be interesting for me. I could mix the different foxes, search new genes to increase my foxes capacities. I destroyed carnivores trying to attack my tribe and began to explore the environment. The 20-days life expectancy of the foxes limited my population growth to be exponential, but I still managed the consequences of the little mistakes that I was doing. As I was repeatedly doing the same thing, one question rose: “Why am I doing this?” The micro-management was fun, but why did I want to continue after passing the early game and managing the middle game pretty easily. So, my critic will now focus on the long-term motivation.
I love games like Sim City (not the last one), I played countless hours on Sim City 4. The reason why I play them so much, is the visible growth, the planification of the different infrastructure, making the best city. When it comes to Niche, I can increase the stats of my different foxes, but there is nothing visible in term of evolution of the tribes (I actually don’t know if there is a counter for the number of foxes in the tribes). What makes my tribe in Niche unique? If a start a new game, I won’t feel the difference in term of tribe, only in term of creatures. Except the destroyed berries, your tribe does not leave any trace on the map.
An other point of view is from Tactical-RPG. I recently played Fire Emblem: Awakening. You controls a group of soldiers, with different personalities. While they fight different enemies, they can pair up and improve their relationship to the point of marriage (in my point of view, it goes way to quickly, like: “I love you, let’s marry”, but it just a video-game). In Niche, you can mate and create a new fox using a genetic function to create new stats, depending on the parents stats. The thing is, creatures dies after 20 rounds. In Fire Emblem, you follow your heroes in the long-term loop of the game. You remember them (out of nowhere, wirting in the train without Internet, I can remember: Chrom, my character name: Robin, Frederik, Lucina, Cherche, Viseron, Stahl, Marth, …). The 20-days life-limit kills that. I care a bit for some of my powerful (mostly females) foxes, but not much.
Even if Fire Emblem group personality (not personalities) is as developed as in Niche (not very much); in Civilization, every unit are a part of your country. The personality is on the group. Your country has stats. As a player, you identify yourself as a invisible leader of a country. In Niche, you don’t feel that the tribe as any personality.
Finally, I had a lot of fun playing Niche, and I can see the potential contained in the game. But for me to play more than one hour, I need some long-term motivation, that will catapult Niche in my top favorite game of all time.