Earnest Evans (Genesis) review
"In a misguided attempt at fluidity, developers Wolf Team have gone too far, raising up a horrible amalgamation of loosely fitted sprite skin over a sentient gelatin skeleton. Each limb, digit, and joint of Earnest's lanky form oozes seemingly independently of the whole. Truly he is one of the most uniquely animated characters in gaming history - and thatís not a good thing."
Wet your pants in fright at the horrible hero, or wet your pants laughing at the bout of diarrhea that must be staining his pants. Anyway you look at it, someone should be changing their drawers.
Earnest Evans is not a horror game. It's a side-scrolling hack and slash outing released in happy 16-bit times, when such outings were common. Yet it somehow calls to mind the eldritch essence of the singular body of work belonging to master of the weird, H.P. Lovecraft. This is because the game's hero, Earnest, moves in an aberrant way that is ''scarcely to be fathomed'', as good ol' Howard Phillips might say. In a misguided attempt at fluidity, developers Wolf Team have gone too far, raising up a horrible amalgamation of loosely fitted sprite skin over a sentient gelatin skeleton. Each limb, digit, and joint of Earnest's lanky form oozes seemingly independently of the whole. Truly he is one of the most uniquely animated characters in gaming history - and thatís not a good thing.
But if our hero scares you, don't worry - there's a good deal of comic relief to be had. You see, Wolf Team is also responsible for the strange shooter, Sol-Deace. And while EE's music, like Sol-Deace's, ranges from adequate to awesome, the sound effects are terrible in both games, and naturally, more prominent than the good tunes. In fact, some of the exact same obnoxious effects have been ported over, meaning those who have played that game must once again endure the ubiquitous wet farting sounds, except they light it up here when Earnest kills something with his whip, instead of when the Sol-Deace deals out damage with its lasers. So, tragically, Earnest's ugliness and the loud, inexorable farting that follows him like the storm cloud over the unlucky soul, take turns vying at stealing the show.
Fortunately for us, EE is more than an abominable protagonist dealing death to the tune of cacophonous loose stool sounds. There are 11 stages of side-scrolling action to whip your way through, in brilliant Indiana Jones-cum-Castlevania style. Most of the exploration takes place in appropriately dark, dank caverns, but there are notable exceptions - notable moments spent in the sun. You'll get to move from car-to-car aboard a moving train, fly an antiquated airplane, and ride shotgun in an old school gangster car, playing the role of a slick Dick Tracy type, only with a whip in hand rather than a Tommy gun. Maybe you could be Dick Tracy as a circus animal trainer, but you've only the whip, and not the stool (loose stool sounds notwithstanding), so maybe it's best if you forget that I mentioned Dick Tracy altogether. In any case, most levels are quite short, involving your dispatching a few paltry, puny enemies before ultimately tracking down and putting down the monstrous main challenge.
Earnest can walk, duck down and creep, or get face down and crawl, depending on how little room a passage grants him. While he can whip certain objects and swing, a la Super Castlevania IV, his whip can't do much else. It only works in two directions, left and right, and ducking down doesn't really make the weapon behave any differently. There are three other weapons to be found, and each one can be found only once, in only one place: there are grenades you can toss, a sort of ball and chain to wield, and a weird-looking club after a fashion. All three auxiliary weapons have limited use, and when you find them, you'll still be able to switch back to using your default whip. As you might expect though, when you do find one of the special weapons, you'll quickly realize that your find is the best tool for the job, so just make use of it and make your disfigured hero's life a little easier.
In truth, these weapons seem included as an afterthought, as they add little to the game. Thus, despite their inclusion, EE is basically a one-weapon action-adventure, and the limitation hurts the gameplay more than you'd think. It's not the easiest thing to pull off, making a good platformer featuring just one weapon, one weapon technique, one button to pound on. Certainly EE is no Strider; there is no sliding, grappling, cart-wheeling. There are no robot helpers, no brilliant presentation, no compelling story. Moreover, Earnest's whip is no Cypher, and it only resembles Simon Belmont's weapon after the most cursory of looks. It can't be powered up, it can't flick about limply. It just swishes from low to high, and after enough lashing away, your enemies will fall to its insistence.
The overly simplistic approach gnawed at my interest in the game as I played, even during the more potentially exciting scenarios. For weaker enemies, whether above me or below me, I could just stand and whip. For stronger enemies, I could just whip, and retreat, and whip again. There were no lightning-inducing and speed-increasing power ups a la The Legendary Axe, another one-weapon side-scroller. Realistically, EE's basic, and frankly, downright boring 'whip and run and find the boss' gameplay might have gotten over a bit better if the presentation was moreÖ presentable. But it's not.
The idea of a fast paced 2D Tomb Raider with good music and decent visuals seems much better than the mess that is the reality. In fairness, it's a personable, often charming mess, but a mess nonetheless. As mentioned, an unintentionally alien hero, and unintentionally humourous sounds are the main attractions, and so the real bright spots, like the sequence of levels featuring the train, plane, and automobile, are reduced to the draw of interesting sideshows rather than the truly, sincere, memorable moments that they should have been. It's the curse of good ideas in an exceptionally badly botched project - you just can't take the good stuff seriously though you really should. Stay away unless you're dying to investigate the kitsch.
Staff review by Marc Golding (December 19, 2003)
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