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The Moonlight War novel by S.K.S. Perry

E.V.O.: The Search for Eden (SNES) artwork

E.V.O.: The Search for Eden (SNES) review

"“Survival of the fittest” is the phrase that best describes E.V.O., a game that tackles the theory of evolution with an approach that flips between light-hearted playfulness and primal ferocity. Nature is, of course, both of these things, and exists because of delicate balances that can easily be disrupted. One divergence from the evolutionary path can cause chaos, and eventually the death of the planet. "

“Survival of the fittest” is the phrase that best describes E.V.O., a game that tackles the theory of evolution with an approach that flips between light-hearted playfulness and primal ferocity. Nature is, of course, both of these things, and exists because of delicate balances that can easily be disrupted. One divergence from the evolutionary path can cause chaos, and eventually the death of the planet.

To make sure that Earth progresses along its proper course, Gaia sends down a life-force (you) to head off any disasters before they happen. Your adventure therefore spans from time of the water-breathers through several eras where the Earth’s future seems to hang by a thread. Rumors circulate among the plants that tell of sharks oppressing the oxygen breathers and denying them the means to evolve onto land, or of insects challenging the reptiles for dominance, or later still of the reptiles who have now overstepped themselves and must be beaten back to allow the rise of the mammals.

E.V.O. never lets you forget that you too, despite being a being sent from the Heavens, are part of the environment. While you begin as a primitive life-form, you are given the ability to harness the mysterious streams of time and evolve your body into something greater.

You will start each era in fear, hunted, as a weakling low on the food chain. Survival depends on hiding from the strong and preying on whatever smaller creatures you can find. The carcasses of your victims will yield “Evolution Points,” which can be accumulated and used to mould your body into a more powerful and efficient killing machine. Bigger fins for speed; stronger jaws; a large tail for higher leaps; a horn for impaling foes. Success in the quest Gaia has laid out for you can only be achieved by evolving and being able to dominate the environment around you.

These strange hybrids of nature that you become may diverge into several different evolutionary branches, and it’s always good to save the game often and experiment with combinations of bodies, tails, horns, legs and jaws. Some mutations will increase defensive capabilities at the expense of speed, for example, while others will increase speed while lowering attack power. Eventually, the time may come when you will be offered important choices. The choice to take to the skies, or to evolve into that most unique of mammals: the hairless, tool-wielding ape.

This is one of the coolest concepts for a videogame that I have ever played. However, like many other Enix games, E.V.O. is severely unbalanced. The game touches on concepts that are extremely profound, yet in the next breath seems to shy away from them and put up a front of goofiness and absurdity. You begin the game at the dawn of time, a small water-breather swimming through the vast and primordial ocean. A sense of fragility permeates the ethereal blue of the water; an almost unworldly atmosphere, full of mystery and evoking the appropriate level of reverence. It is, then, a harsh transition when we are dumped into the next era of goofy-looking reptiles and dinosaurs who recoil in cartoonish horror when you chomp on them, and fall asleep with little ZZZs rising from their nostrils to a lullaby of shallow country music.

This fluctuation of mood and apparent inability to sustain one atmosphere through the course of the game is however a rather minor detail when compared to the more concrete gameplay problems of E.V.O. Each stage is made up of several levels linked by an overhead map, and each level is inhabited by progressively bigger and meaner animals. The idea is that you hang around in the lower stages (you can replay any stage multiple times) building up your body by eating lots of puny life-forms, then progress to the latter stages and to the final boss-battle. These levels are laughably easy, and can generally be cleared by walking from one end to the other, sometimes in a mere ten or fifteen seconds. The primary activity in each level is unfortunately not to explore or to perform any physically challenging feats, but to simply eat creatures to build up enough AP to evolve, and when all the creatures in the area have been eaten, to walk a few paces to one side and then double back so that all the enemies regenerate.

These floater stages are offset by insanely hard boss-battles. Most of the bosses deal out unfair amounts of damage, can accelerate much faster than you can, and take advantage of lousy hit detection and the lack of post-hit invincibility to back you into a corner and simply cheap-shot you to death. To elaborate a little further on the hit detection, E.V.O. is one of those games where you take damage by simply touching an enemy, even if you’re nowhere near its mouth. Or, even more ridiculously, if the enemy is moving away from you and you happen to walk into it from behind.

However, despite all the rather weighty criticisms levelled at E.V.O., it doesn’t fail. It’s the kind of game that encourages you to make allowances and excuses for it, justifying all the gameplay frustration and monotony of AP gathering because a game based on animal evolution is just so damn cool.

Rating: 7/10

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Community review by alecto (January 25, 2003)

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