One of my favorite things about video games is that they can take us to such fascinating worlds, bringing to life places that we could only previously visit through our imaginations. EVO: Search for Eden is a game that takes place billions of years before man existed. In these prehistoric times, animals ruled the earth and you play as one of them. After accepting a trial of "Survival of the Fittest", you will wander the planet, fighting other animals for dominance and eating to grow bigger and "evolve" into a more powerful creature. EVO really filled me with a sense of wonder, as it is truly a wonder unto itself.
9/10EVO's graphics play a big role in its presentation. The game world is absolutely gorgeous! You begin in the mysterious Ocean of Origin, a world without dry land. As you progress through the game's five chapters you will gradually see the land rise and change shape. The backgrounds of each individual stage are drawn very realisitically. Multiple effects, such as line scrolling, parallax scrolling, and color layering are used to create a sense of depth and realism. I've never seen greener hills in video games than the hills of EVO's later chapters.
Much of the fun of EVO comes from its visual appeals. Because of how diverse the terrain is, and how many different kinds of animals exist, I spent much of the game wanting to know what would come next. Oddly enough, the animals are drawn in more of a cartoon-like fashion than the backgrounds. Another big part of the fun is just watching how your animal changes and develops as it evolves into other forms. Although the walking animation of your character is quite stiff, its facial expressions are humorously convincing.
6.5/10An outside company called "Cube" did the music for EVO, which sort of makes me wonder why they didn't do a better job. When the game began, I was quite impressed with what I heard. The symphonic title, world map, and ocean themes easily capture the sense of wonder that the game portrays. When you first set foot on dry land, you're greeted with an offbeat "bluegrass" melody, complete with strumming banjos. But after that, it starts going downhill. For much of the dinosaur era and beyond, a very simple (and very irritating) tune is played over and over again for almost every stage.
Sound effects also tend towards the "cartoony" side, especially the chomping noise of your creature's jaws and his whooping jumps. But many animals have growls, neighs, squeaks, snorts, roars, and other sound effects appropriate to their species.
As EVO opens up, Gaia (the Earth) is informed by the Sun that she is the one planet that will support life. But in order to declare a dominant species, one worthy of receiving "intelligence", a trial called "survival of the fittest" must be completed. You are an animal trying to complete this trial. EVO is not for the weak of heart. Those cute little animals that populate each world are your dinner, and you'll only survive in this game by eating as many of them as you can and using the collected "EVO points" to evolve into higher life forms.
But the trial doesn't quite go as planned as some problems arise due to a third party's unauthorized involvement in the planet's evolutionary processes. This may, at first, seem like an insignificant subplot, but eventually it becomes very central to the story, as it turns into a general showdown between your creature and a trove of super-beings augmented by the power of a mysterious crystal.
EVO's story seems to want to have its cake and eat it, too, using both theories of evolution and the Garden of Eden as plot devices. This may be offensive to some, but bear in mind that this game is pure fantasy. EVO never wants us to believe that what is going on really happened, but rather, to become absorbed into its own little world. And on that level, this game succeeds. Even though your creature eats other creatures to survive, there are some important characters who are not there just to be next on the menu, and they will ask for your help in many situations. This creates a stronger sense of a bond between you and EVO's world. So much so, that I found a particular scene at the end of the dinosaur chapter to be extremely powerful and poignant. I probably would not have guessed that any scene in a game starring mostly animals who have very little dialogue could have had such an emotional effect on me.
7.5/10The play control of EVO is quite good, but it will depend somewhat on how you've evolved your creature. Some body parts may allow your creature to move faster and/or jump higher, but others will slow it/weigh it down. Thus, experimenting with different combinations is encouraged. (If you're lucky enough to have this game's poster-manual, it includes a chart that tells you what the strengths and weaknesses of each body part are.)
EVO's control is unique and fun because it gives you the opportunity to use it in so many different ways. At first, you'll only swim, as you begin beneath the ocean. Swimming pretty much amounts to unlimited movement across the entire screen. But once you're on land, you're limited to the running, walking, and jumping of standard platformers. That is, unless you eventually choose to evolve into a winged creature, which will allow you to fly. Flying controls work much like those in the Gargoyle's Quest games: Press A once to jump, again to begin flying. (And flight is unlimited).
CHALLENGE: 7/10I've talked much about EVO's visual appeals, atmospheric qualities, and intuitive play control, all of which help make this game fun. And it's a good thing that they do because as far as challenge goes, EVO is a bit weak in that department. Many of the stages serve as merely holding grounds for the next species of animal you'll encounter. With the exception of a few maze-like interiors, they're practically devoid of any level design. Playing EVO is more like walking through a virtual zoo than challenging your reflexes...at least until you get to the bosses. The bosses can be very difficult. Surprisingly so in some cases, such as the Queen Bee who quickly divebombs and shoots stingers at you, that you'll need to work out distinct strategies for beating them. The final boss is a huge multi-part actionfest in the vein of the later Contra games. However, anyone who plays this game for a good amount of time will most likely discover a simple technique for healing during these fights. But even then, you'll have to be fast enough to pull it off (and not run out of EVO points.) The final chapter, in particular, is very boss-heavy, so even if the stages don't perplex you, you're still not given an easy ride to the end. Penalty for death is losing half of your EVO points and having to do the current stage over again.
8.5/10Although EVO is a sidescroller, it has more of an RPG-like feel to it, mainly because the gameplay takes on an RPG philosophy. The stages themselves serve as hunting grounds for you to eat animals and build EVO points, not unlike building experience points in an RPG. Of course, the stronger the animal, the more points you'll get for defeating it. However, unless you upgrade to stronger body parts, you won't last long against the tougher foes. Eating a grizzly bear in the mammal world will net you a lot more points than chowing down on rats, but one swipe of his claws can easily do you in if you aren't strong enough. Upgrading to better jaws will give you more attacking power. Evolving your body will give you better defense and more hit points. Basically, EVO lets you choose how you want to power-up. Will you rely more on strength and tough defense, or speed and agility? The choice is yours, though I find I most often choose the strongest body parts available at any given time.
Although experience building is not something I find much fun, it's very well-paced in EVO. Once you upgrade to slightly better equipment, you can start taking on more powerful enemies that give you EVO points at a much faster rate, thus making it quicker to build up for the bigger and better stuff. The point of all this, as is the point of building up in most RPGs, is to be strong enough to defeat the bosses. Since the boss fights are the highlight of this game, it's good that there are plenty of them. EVO also has a few secret stages to discover, and you'll know if you missed something because each chapter counts the number of areas you've successfully passed. The most well-hidden secret area is one that not only allows you to find two special super-forms for your creature, but also reveals a sizable chunk of the plot.
EVO is fun and strangely addicting, but it has a few weak moments. First of all, you are given a new form at the beginning of each chapter and elsewhere in the game. Whenever you change form completely like this (ie, from a fish to an amphibian), you lose all your previously accumulated EVO points. You also lose all changes to your creature and are basically back to square one: You're very weak and can only build up again by feasting on the meekest of creatures. Although usually it doesn't take too long to pick up the pace again, the beginning of the mammal chapter seems a little slower than the others. It took a lot of rat-busting before I was able to move onto other things. One thing I'd recommend for your first time through this game is to save often and to separate files, because in the later chapters it's possible to evolve yourself into a form in which you cannot heal during boss fights. Although bosses are not impossible to beat this way, it might be rather tough.
EVO is a game with simple pleasures, original ideas, and fascinating worlds. It's nihilistic at times: You've been given a chance to view what life may have been like before civilization, and all you basically do is eat it. As bold and ambitious an idea as it is, EVO could have still been something more. But it's a trip through time worth taking because there will be another ice age before we'll ever see anything like it again.
OVERALL SCORE (not an average):
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