How a Single Mechanic Broke Niche

When has putting a mechanic called Horny Males in a cute game about genetics ever been a good idea?

It’s amazing how a single update can completely devastate a game, crippling it and its players. If anything, it shows a lack of foresight by the developers as to why the game was good in the first place, or why something worked well enough for people to enjoy themselves while playing.  This is hardly exclusive to Indie games or AAA games, but it stings extra hard when it’s an early access game you were genuinely having fun with, only for it to be soured by a single implementation that shatters the near perfect experience into a million pieces. Luckily with it being in Early Access, it can still change, but here's why it broke the game in the first place.

While working on a preview for the Early Access game Niche, which I was given a press copy for, I decided to take a break and wait for the “Family Tree” patch to come out. The game is a sort of cat sim, where you breed, fight and feed these animals while constantly growing their family tree. There’s quite a bit of nuance involved in it with the breeding system, and it kept my attention until I took my break from it. In the meantime, several other patches as well as several other mechanics were implemented, so by the time I returned to the game, Niche was practically a new game.  It added tons of new features, all of which I immediately fell in love with, for it increased the difficulty, as well as providing the fun of watching these families you created thrive.

Then the Horny Males showed up.

There’s now a mechanic in Niche where when you move to the medium island, there’s a chance that a Horny Male will be in the tall grass, impregnating your female (without you clicking on the “breed” button; he just impregnates her) and then running back into the grass. There is no way to prevent this. If your female tries to smack him, he’ll still do it; if another female comes to help, he’ll knock her up too; you can’t invite him into the pride either, so the only ones that can fight these things are other males.  As a game, Niche tries to be somewhat realistic, putting genuine problems in the way with breeding, disease, blindness and other such things. In real life, animals do immediately breed with other animals like this then leave; this is hardly uncommon in the animal kingdom.  

Here’s the problem that lies with this though: you already have to be a careful breeder in Niche because if you let a genetic defect go unchecked for too long, it can show up in the offspring, making them unhealthy and prone to getting sick or bleeding out.  That said, the majority of the Horny Males don’t have arms, which immediately passes to their offspring; at best you’ll get an offspring with one arm, but here’s the thing about that.

It breaks the game completely.

After a while, you’ll be constantly assailed by these males, and you can’t get rid of the babes they impregnate you with. You’re forced to have their children. You can send them off into the wild or do whatever with them, hoping that the females of their kind don’t share the same fate, or you can try to consistently hunt these males down for absolutely no reward. That’s right, unlike everything else in the game, they give you no rewards for killing these males other than the hope you won’t be seeing another one any time soon... which considering how often they appear is a fool's gambit.

You have to be constantly on guard for these things, and you know what? In a game where I already have to be on the lookout for carnivores, leeches and other such troubles, this makes the game not fun anymore. There’s a chance that the Horny Male can hurt the female because he’s covered in spikes, which can actually kill them! These monsters can wipe out your pride swifter than any disease or carnivore, because they’ll breed so many babies with your females that none of them will have arms to gather food with, which is a main mechanic in the game.  Let me repeat that: your Pride will starve to death because nobody has arms to get food with, which means they all starve to death.

Does that seem fair to you by any stretch of the imagination?


                This is what a normal island looked like prior to the update.

There was a lot of enjoyment to be had watching your pride flourish or struggle, and it was a treat to go through it with them. With the Horny Males mechanic though, you might as well just never let your females go anywhere but a small area, making only the males do anything; this may reduce the amount of pregnancies, but it won’t exactly stop it. This is the worst mechanic I’ve ever seen implemented in a game because it ruins any game file as soon as it shows up, rendering the file nearly unplayable once the assaults start, unless you kill them all off quickly, hoping another doesn’t respawn.

Niche used to be a lot of fun and a rewarding experience, but this new mechanic has made it nerve-wracking to play, and not in the good way. This shows a massive lack of foresight on the part of the developers, for they’ve lost sight of that sweet balance the game had. For a game so early in its infancy, this is quite a shame indeed.

Update 3/15: There have been updates involving reducing the spawn rates of the males, renaming them to "Rogue Males", creating Biomes that don't have them there at all due to complaints and now the spikey body males don't harm you females anymore.  While the mechanic is still an ugly and an obtrusive one, with many of these complaints within this piece being still valid, it is no longer as souring to the experiences as it was previously. 

Published Feb. 4th 2017

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