In 2005, indie developer Introversion released Darwinia, a quirky, silly RTS for the PC that garnered a good amount of critical acclaim. Hoping to continue on that success, the developer followed it up with a multiplayer component, aptly entitled Multiwinia, and announced plans to bring their games to the Xbox Live Arcade. It took some time, and was a trying process for the small UK-based developer, but the self-titled "last of the bedroom programmers" were finally able to make the leap to consoles, rolling together both Darwinia and Multiwinia into Darwinia+ for the Xbox Live Arcade.
The plot is simple: while trying to research artificial intelligence, a doctor breeds generations of Darwinians who, in turn, worship him as a god. After the Darwinians access the doctor's email, viruses are unleashed into their society. In order to recapture their world, the doctor needs to command them against their new-found enemies, . As expected, this plays out in typical RTS gameplay, though a few enhancements for the console port can make sections feel not unlike Geometry Wars. Much of Darwinia, the singleplayer portion, is spent as commando units, which are controlled with one stick handling movement while the other manages firing weapons. What makes it different from a typical two-stick shooter is that it's still attached, heavily, to RTS gameplay, which means creating units and commanding them around a battlefield. The only real problems with the controls are the typical issues that arise bringing PC games to consoles, mainly with the controls simply not being as good on the controller, but it's unavoidable, and was handled fairly well. Due to the input being controller instead of mouse and keyboard, small pathing issues, which weren't evident in the PC release, become slightly more evident. The method they went with, a blend of RTS and two-stick shooter, meshes together well, and the lengthy singleplayer campaign is easily worth the investment.
That said, there's much more to Darwinia+ than just Darwinia. The + at the end is an indicator of the multiplayer side, Multiwinia, which has a singleplayer campaign of its own as well. It's like a typical RTS torn down to the essentials, with different bases constantly spawning Darwinians, and the players being tasked with completing different objectives (depending on the game type). Both the singleplayer side and multiplayer side of Multiwinia provide plenty of thrills, and much of it is entirely dependent on the game's community. Back when we reviewed Multiwinia, the largest complaint was that the fantastic multiplayer was essentially barren, something the Xbox 360 release will hopefully alleviate. As of now, the community is there, and there's hardly ever a time where it's difficult to find a competitor online. If the game gains the success it should, and the population manages to hold strong, then Darwinia+ can easily succeed where Multiwinia did not.
Stylistically, there's really no game like it. It's retro, but not in the way you're likely used to. Don't expect 8-bit visuals or silly Mario sound effects, this thing goes further back than that. Sound effects feel ripped out of old computers, the visuals make Tron look advanced, and everything about the game is attempting to sell the "inside the PC" feeling. It's going to alienate some people, and send others into nerdy comas, with very few left in-between. At times it feels as though it could be a stronger looking title, and there's no doubt that it can seem cheaply made at times, but that's likely because it is, and there's only so much blame that can be put on a developer for working with the tools they have.
Don't expect an incredibly deep experience. Darwinia+ boils away the nonsense of typical RTS and leaves just the ones and zeroes. Introversion put a massive amount of heart into the Xbox Live port of their beloved RTS, and it shows. There are few flaws in the conversion, and there's no doubt that it's one of the better games in the genre to make its way to consoles. Some might find problems with the game's lackluster tutorials or simplistic style, but for a game as uncomplicated as Darwinia+, it really shouldn't kill anyone's enthusiasm for the unique game. It's a strong title, easily worth the price for anyone interested, and should earn a download for anyone looking for something a little different on the Xbox Live Arcade.