The last time I had to seriously think about ecosystems, and I mean seriously think about them, I was popping a spot during third period biology class. Now, a depressing 12 years later, I'm doing it again (without the spot popping).
In the horribly-named Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman! What Did I Do to Deserve This?, a GCSE level understanding of soil nutrition and food chain pyramids doesn't just help, it's required. It's hard, rock hard, not because it requires quick reflexes or God-like hand eye coordination, but because it feels like reading a textbook about your back garden and then taking a test.
You'd never know it, though, going by the retro art style and the bonkers, 8-bit JRPG-referencing premise. You are the God of Destruction. Sounds cool, right? Sure. Shame that what this actually means is that you're a disembodied pickaxe. Really. Badman, an Overlord, has woken you up to help defend his kingdom from pesky invading heroes, exactly the kind you remember equipping in old Japanese role-playing games. Badman wants you to dig forth a dungeon, generating servant monsters out of the soil of the Netherworld, so that when the heroes turn up they eat dirt. Or, to be more accurate, the dirt eats them.
At first glance Badman looks like a fun, typically Nippon Ichi-styled Tower Defence game. With the pickaxe you need to dig square blocks out of the soil, releasing newborn monsters that walk back and forth through the tunnels you've created. Then, you place Overlord Badman in the safest spot possible and await the human adventurers' entry into the dungeon. Each hero has a set number of hit points and a range of JRPG special abilities - sword slicing attacks, axe cleaving, spell casting, healing, that sort of thing. With any luck, your monster army will be powerful enough to kill the heroes before they reach the Overlord (resulting in a stage clear). If not, they'll grab him and leg it out (Game Over!).
You quickly realise, however, that Badman is more of a real-time strategy sim than a Tower Defence game, more SimCity than PixelJunk Monsters. There's so much going on, so much to consider, so many mechanics that need to be fully understood before success becomes more than just blind luck, that Badman is possibly the most overwhelming, complicated PSP game yet.
For example, you need to understand soil. A block of soil has four levels: At level zero it contains no nutrients. At level one it contains basic nutrients that, when dug, will spawn a Slimemoss - an obvious nod to the Slimes from Dragon Quest. Slimemosses slime their way through the tunnels of your dungeon, distributing nutrients to other blocks of soil. Distribute enough nutrients into a block of soil and it'll change colour, upgrading to level two, and finally level three.
The point? Upgraded soil, when dug, spawns better monsters like Omnoms (skeletal demon bugs), Lizardmen and even dragons. Spawning high end monsters is essential from as early as stage three, because they're better in a scrap and you'll be up against multiple heroes who have loads of hit points. Good quality monsters also reproduce, increasing the strength of your army further.
That's not even the half of it. There's a complex food chain that needs to be carefully managed so that all your monsters don't die of starvation. There are producer units, like Slimemosses, and two levels of consumers that feed on them. You need to carefully balance the number of different types of monsters you have on the go so that everyone's well fed. Have plenty of Slimemosses, and Omnoms and Lizardmen will stuff their faces, increasing their vitality. Have too many Omnoms in relation to Slimemosses, and the Omnoms will starve and die, and, consequently, so will Lizardmen.