Darwin 4081 (Genesis) review
"Basic Darwin involves shooting down ugly hordes of oddly coloured butterfly things, worms, and scores of other foes that resemble random broken bits of plastic left at the bottom of a child's toy box. You simply won't know what to make of this stuff."
The Origin of Feces
I like old, dead 2D shooters so much that normal gamers laugh at me. I'm more than eccentric, I'm "not quite right". If you desire proof, try to imagine some idiot playing Insector X when they have an unplayed copy of Final Fantasy VII on their shelf. That's me. I'm that idiot.
In all my glorious idiocy, I embarked upon a sort of Genesis/Mega Drive shooter journey of discovery last year, running through any and everything that featured a hero-versus-horde 'story', projectiles, and a scrolling backdrop. Among the twenty or so titles I played, Darwin 4081 was the most... special.
I mean, think of it: Darwin. DARWIN! This is a shooter that tries to explore evolution! Your ugly greyish squid (I'm not sure if it's a sentient being, or a ship of sorts) actually evolves as you collect power-ups! The idea is really brilliantly well-suited to the genre, and I'm surprised it hasn't been used more.
Perhaps the execution on show in Darwin scared off future developers. Perhaps game designers would discuss with one another: "Hey, how about a groovy 2D shooter! One that features an evolving--wait. We all know what happened with that Darwin incident."
As it stands, 4081 is the Genesis port of the arcade game, Darwin 4078 (no, I'm not kidding). Not only did they really have this sucker in the arcades--but it evolved on its trip to the Genesis! It's a vertical shoot-em-up employing the blandest of Genesis graphics imaginable--this could have been accomplished easily on an NES. The music is tinny and negligible, save for the little jingle that begins each level. That one is tinny, but far too prevalent to be negligible: it's irritating.
Basic Darwin involves shooting down ugly hordes of oddly coloured butterfly things, worms, and scores of other foes that resemble random broken bits of plastic left at the bottom of a child's toy box. You simply won't know what to make of this stuff.
Aside from one standout level that has you navigating what looks to be the inside of a computer (complete with microchips and circuits and whatnot), the stages are equally headshakingly indescribable. Bosses range from a stopwatch to a dragon.
As random and ugly as everything is, if the shooting was balanced and intense, I would find a small place in my heart for Darwin 4081. But it's not. Your squid ship (there, I've decided) is slow, and enemies are fast. You have weapons for air and ground based enemies, which is cool, but while the air-to-air guns evolve satisfactorily, the bombs stay the same, retaining their pitifully short range target reticle the whole way through. You've got to be almost right on top of bullets-spewing ground-based turrets to take them out. The lack of parity between your speed and that of your enemies, and the horrible functionality of your secondary weapon make this a bad shooter.
I won't go so far as to say that Darwin 4081 is of the worst 2D shooters EVER--that would be overstated hyperbole. But without the least hint of overstated hyperbole, I can make the assertion that Darwin 4081 is about the most random game I've ever played. This is the stuff of a pothead game designer's fantasies. And while it amazes me that the arcade game was made to begin with, it's absolutely mindboggling that efforts were made to bring the magic home to the Mega Drive.
Stay far away. This is one of those oddities that isn't entertaining, like Zero Wing of "ALL YOUR BASE" fame. For the normal gamer, Darwin 4081 will only prompt a "the hell?" followed by "let's see what's on TV tonight". One weirdo in a million will sit down and hammer out a review about it instead.
Staff review by Marc Golding (April 29, 2005)
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