Niche: A Genetics Survival Game is a turn-based strategy game combined with simulation and roguelike elements, developed and published by Stray Fawn Studio. It originally released in Early Access on Steam in 2016 but this review is focusing on the Nintendo Switch version which launched on September 3, 2020. Niche reminds me of playing 2008’s Spore, however is much more involved and even educational.
In Niche, you shape your own species of animals based on the real science of genetics. This includes mutations, dominant-recessive and co-dominant inheritance genes, genetic drift and flow, natural and sexual selection, among other things. You must keep your species alive against things such as predators, climate change and spreading sicknesses to your offspring. If your species goes extinct the game is lost and your evolution needs to start anew.
There is a story mode which acts as a tutorial, and a sandbox mode. I started the story mode and gained a general grasp of the game, however there’s a steep learning curve. I liked the diversity of breeding creatures and traits into the animals, as well as exploring the islands. Being turn-based, it’s a slow progression but it allows you to plan your moves from island to island, ensuring your animal keeps up with feeding and finding other animals.
Each of the gameplay elements are explained the first time you interact with them, however the game could benefit from having a ‘what is this’ option so you can easily remind yourself what it is you’re looking at. There is a menu where you can look over all the tutorial text again, but if you don’t know what you’re looking at, you don’t know what to look for to get help. Breeding traits is very complex and random, to the point where I tried breeding something that could fly but couldn’t get there.
That being said, it was a blast seeing new mutations appear. I managed to unlock some bigger claws which continued down that animal’s blood line. Randomly running into animals and deciding if I wanted them in my tribe or if I just wanted some of their traits (you can breed without inviting them to your tribe) was very interesting.
Overall, Niche is a very detailed game. There were times when I found myself trying to remember bits and pieces from my high school science days. I’m not surprised to hear this game is being used by schools to help with genetics subjects. For me, that became an issue as I prefer my games to be simpler to learn, but I can see how this would appeal to detail-oriented gamers.
Written by: @Str8JaktJim