Niche (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Eric Ace 13.09.2020

Review for Niche on Nintendo Switch

Niche is a unique game if nothing else. Players are tasked with controlling the lives of creatures, and entire genetic family lines, including their feeding, mating and even evolution. Players act as a sort of god guiding this genetic line through changing levels. Manipulating various stats like movement, hunting, smell, sight and even flying or swimming, creatures must make the most of each new environment they find themselves in as entire genetic lines can be wiped out very quickly.

Starting off with a heart-wrenching plot of some small animal taken by a large bird, and left to die on a deserted island with the sole goal of trying to get home, the set-up actually has nothing to do with the actual game which is largely unfortunate. This sets up a cool plot of the animal 'Adam' and his meeting with a random 'Eve,' who they then have some children, and thus start their line and the quest to get back home.

Gameplay is both simplistic, and far more complicated than it needs to be. At its absolute basics, animals have a few action points each turn to do things like move, forage, hunt, dig or fight. In every turn, each animal consumes one food unit which is a tribe-wide resource. Depending on each animal's stats, they will be better at cracking open nuts, foraging, moving, hunting and so on. Eventually, animals will need to mate, by which players can modify up to two genes such as favoring paw development, or perhaps a new color coat.

Screenshot for Niche on Nintendo Switch

At the beginning, this gives a pretty good tutorial about the general actions, even leading up to mating and leaving the island. Then… it stops. Tutorials are sometimes a hot button issue about hand-holding, but in this case the game is insanely complex about the way the genes, mating and offspring works. Just to give an example, there are somewhere around 20 different color patterns of fur to evolve, and as far as could be told, it only minutely affects one aspect (hunting). Then other strange options presented to players like evolving a 'deformed paw' which gives no bonuses. Why would a player evolve this? This reviewer isn't sure, and that is what leads to one of the major problems with this.

The general idea of having some animals, slowly evolving them to survive the changes is actually a pretty cool idea, and is a reminder back to a very old Super Nintendo title, E.V.O. Search For Eden which was an awesome cult-classic about evolving creatures. The problems in this is how very rapidly players get buried in minutiae of both turn-to-turn and the mystifying gene system. The turns largely devolve into simply moving, foraging on the same bushes over and over, and maybe one or two animals pushing ahead and clearing a path. Somewhere along the way there are a few matings, but it never feels as cool as it could, as even picking the traits desired does not guarantee them which somewhat seems to defeat the purpose.

Screenshot for Niche on Nintendo Switch

All of this is sad, unfortunately, because there are some interesting moments in the game. For example having the first Adam and Eve eventually die and leave only a pile of bones behind as the rest of the animals move on felt powerful (even if the game hardly makes a mention of it). It is a very weird feeling to be generations in, and there are little reminders of the progenitors that got this whole party started. Intentional or not, it gives a very weird metaphor for perhaps humanity's own life and continuation of the chain of life that got it here.

Having creatures that are better at opening nuts, some better at fighting, and so on, is fun, as is having them go out and do their thing. Too often, though, the turns just kind of drag on. To truly play this well, players will want to have tons of creatures, and absolutely farm the heck out of the first couple levels, but each turn is a little boring and repetitive. So this encounters a bad uphill cycle, where to best play the game requires ironically it to become less fun, as there is so much grind within each turn. Having only a small party is far more fun, but random things kill off everyone very quickly on occasion.

Screenshot for Niche on Nintendo Switch

To expand on this last point some more, generally turn survival is very easy. Often there is tons of food, and nothing really challenges the animals. However, random stuff happens, such as venturing into the water and getting both wounded and leeched, which is a quick way to die. Another example is a sickness (which again is a partly mystifying aspect) which easily rips through the whole tribe, and kills off many of them.

The vision of what this title could have been, or was going for, seemed a lot more compelling of having some sort of narrative of trying to keep a genetic line alive. As it is, there is zero storyline, and the actual game falls very quickly into turn grind, and leaving little reason to continue. Seeing the family chain continue down is a unique feeling, but it's one of the rare positives in a game that is largely wholly average. In the end, the feelings of the memories of Adam and Eve and their descendants will last far longer than any good memories about the gameplay itself.

Screenshot for Niche on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

5/10
Rated 5 out of 10

Average

Niche is cute, and has some interesting ideas about evolution and adapting to changing circumstances. One of its best charms is the feeling of connection with the first animals as it fades away into a unique connection simply with the continuing family line. These are marred by a very repetitive turn structure, and an exceedingly complex gene system - both serve to get in the way of having fun. The vision is exciting, but the reality is too much of a grind to recommend in any large capacity, beyond the novelty of interacting with life/death in a memorable way, if nothing else.

Developer

Stray Farn

Publisher

Stray Fawn

Genre

Strategy

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  5/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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