In Reus, you play a planet. Awakening from a long slumber, you control four benevolent giants (Ocean, Forest, Rock, Swamp) with powers to shape (terraform) patches of earth for humans to prosper. Reus is a god and resource management game. Giants can create biomes, animals and plants for food, minerals for wealth and technology. The 2D perspective lets you zoom out from the village level to see the whole planet.
Playability: Head scratching
The first few games of Reus are easy enough and the tutorials do a good job at introducing the basic mechanics of creating oceans, forests, swamps, mountains and deserts. But as soon as symbioses and aspects (abilities to transmute or empower resources) are thrown in, and villagers start building ever more complex projects (harbours, universities, banks, observatories etc), the planet’s balance runs amok. There is also a timer for the completion of projects, which soon has you scrambling for the pause button to look up the best combinations of resources, transmutations and symbioses.
Annoyance: Arbitrary symbioses
Reus relies on synergies between plants, animals and minerals that are rather unintuitive and arbitrary, which requires you to commit them to memory for a smoother playthrough. Put a blue whale next to a mackerel and you’ll get additional food. Give lychees to langurs to produce technology. Komodo dragons get along with poison dart frogs… Entire patches have to be regularly razed to rebuild anew as space is a severely limiting factor. Failing to complete a village project is at first aggravating, but your eager flock is not easily defeated and soon starts the same endeavour again. Each game begins from a barren planet, without any continuity with the previous iterations. A campaign story would have helped sustain interest in what is essentially a long succession of puzzles to solve.
Beauty: Relaxing drawings
Reus is a generally peaceful planetary landscape. There is the occasional mild violence when greedy villagers take on their neighbours or when giants decide to teach humankind well deserved lessons in humility. The animations are fluid if somewhat lackadaisical and the drawings have a cute cartoonish appeal.
The Old Video Gamer’s Prattle: Original but complex puzzles 7/10
I’m not quite sure my review makes much sense if you haven’t had a chance to play Reus. The lumbering giants and the puny humans are nothing to be afraid of. Reus is a simple looking game, but in reality an intricate simulation. The unintuitive combinations, symbioses and aspects rely on somewhat arbitrary rules that need to be committed to memory for a smooth playthrough. A print out sheet of giant powers and of synergies between plants, animals and minerals is helpful to solve a long list of complex village vanity projects. Reus is an original game that keeps you entertained if you like puzzle solving.