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

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


"E.V.O.: The Search for Eden really shouldn’t be fun. It’s an Action-RPG with almost no redeeming qualities, save for its one highly enjoyable system of evolution. The developers seem to have made the game entirely dependent on that feature, and amazingly, their gambit worked. Even though almost all of the gameplay consists of grinding for EVO (evolution) points to further tweak your Darwinian nightmare, the promise of that next upgrade is just enough motivation to keep playing. I find it ironic that a game about evolution would survive purely by appealing to an obscure niche."



E.V.O.: The Search for Eden really shouldn’t be fun. It’s an Action-RPG with almost no redeeming qualities, save for its one highly enjoyable system of evolution. The developers seem to have made the game entirely dependent on that feature, and amazingly, their gambit worked. Even though almost all of the gameplay consists of grinding for EVO (evolution) points to further tweak your Darwinian nightmare, the promise of that next upgrade is just enough motivation to keep playing. I find it ironic that a game about evolution would survive purely by appealing to an obscure niche.

The storyline is simple: your goal is to evolve and survive. Gaia, a girl with glowing blue hair who “watches over all life, including you,” tells you that the whole game is a trial given by her “father.” If you complete the trial, you can live in peace with her in Eden. The idea seems to be that her father is God, and the trial is designed to choose someone to begin the human race with his daughter. You know, the classic story of Adam and… Gaia.

I have to give the game credit for replicating the history of animal evolution on Earth with at least partial accuracy. They’re right about the general order: fish did lead into simple amphibians, followed by simple reptiles, followed by complex reptiles (dinosaurs), followed by complex mammals that began to fill in the large animal niches when the dinosaurs died off. We also get to witness the asteroid impact that contributed to the dinosaurs’ extinction. Well, actually, in E.V.O. it’s more like a meteorite shower, but that might have been the best they could do on the SNES’ hardware.

The game’s level design is occasionally interesting but typically atrocious. Most areas are flat planes with minimal background detail. Progression between them is equally linear for much of the game, though there are a few optional spots available to be explored. Worse still, the music used in nearly every location is just a loop of one horrible 10-second track. Some of the other songs are alright, but that one musical abomination will be all that you hear for 90% of the game.

Each “life cycle” in E.V.O. will progress in a predictable pattern. Step 1: Arrive at a new era. You are a small fish, a barely mobile reptile, or something else similarly unintimidating. Step 2: Grind for EVO points. It’s usually best to run past everything until you find an area where the infinitely re-spawning enemies give slightly more points than usual. Step 3: Spend points. This is the best part! Power up your creature with stronger legs, fins, wings, jaws, and so on. You should be doing this periodically while grinding, to increase your grinding speed. Step 4: Beat up bosses. They’re usually found just beyond the best grinding spots. Defeating them will unlock access to better grinding spots. Killing an era’s final boss will advance the story and bring you to the next epoch. So goes the whole game.

There are four types of coloured crystals scattered throughout the game to aid you in your quest. Blue ones give you more EVO points, yellow ones offer hints, red ones change you into a special type of beast that is otherwise inaccessible, and green ones allow you to morph into a previously saved creature. The currently evolved form can be recorded at any time then recalled temporarily with a green crystal during any era. Interestingly, this also works with the evolutions that can only be triggered by red crystals. Green crystals help to make certain boss fights easier as well as to speed up grinding in a new age, because they allow you to bypass the annoying initial period where you would normally have to waste time killing many small, weak things with your equally weak creature.

Fighting bosses with powerful saved-up evolutions might sound game-breaking, but all the really hard opponents come at the end of an epoch, when your current creature will typically be stronger than any of the recorded ones. And even the super-powerful hidden forms can only be summoned temporarily. In any case, you’ll need all the help you can get. The game’s bosses tend to be very fast and are capable of killing you in 3 or so hits, often by combo-ing you with several vicious strikes in a row. Combat in E.V.O. is a bit broken, but its flaws can also be used in your favour. Your somewhat inaccurate attacks are quick enough to be able to stun-lock the bosses right back. This isn’t a 100% reliable technique, though, so battles stay interesting even when they involve pitting two unfair strategies against each other. Also, evolving any trait will fully heal you. One exploitable trick is to repeatedly add and remove a cheap enhancement, effectively spending small quantities of EVO points to fully restore your HP.

Defeating any era’s final boss will reveal one of the game’s worst design flaws. After exploding, the enemy will drop several beefy steaks containing hundreds or thousands of EVO points. However, since you’ve reached the end of the age, you’ll almost certainly have fully upgraded yourself already. At least you can save up the points to use in the next era, right? Wrong. Your tally resets at the start of each new era. It really should have occurred to the designers that, since gaining upgrades is the only real feature of the game, of course the players who are still enjoying E.V.O. will have exhausted this system within each time period. Even if you manage to beat the boss early, the only real reward is a slightly stronger creature to summon with green crystals later on; it would be just as efficient at grinding as a moderately evolved one, and still weaker than the maximum potential you’ll have in the next era. A more helpful approach would have been to award you those points after you’ve transitioned to the next part of the game, rather than just before.

So what exactly makes this game worth playing? Well, it’s probably not… unless you really like RPGs. E.V.O. is banking on your enjoyment of the most basic RPG mechanic: character improvement. When you get right down to it, the core of the genre is watching a character grow in response to the player’s choices and careful management. For all its faults, E.V.O. definitely nails this one critical feature. The combination of trying out different evolutionary paths and simple, addictive point farming ultimately does make for a legitimately fun game, but only if you’re into that sort of thing…

Rating: 5/10

Whelk's avatar
Freelance review by Kyle Charizanis (May 01, 2013)

Lifelong gamer and unabashed nerd. Not even a little bit bashed. He was originally drawn to Honest Gamers for its overall high quality of writing. He lives inside his computer which is located in Toronto, Canada. Also, he has a Twizzler (@Whelkk).

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