Article by Ben Elgin | Dec. 5, 2010
E.V.O.: Search for Eden
It’s easy to see why a player might pass over E.V.O.: Search for Eden if they were simply plunged into the middle of it. The graphics are decent, but nothing amazing compared to its contemporaries. The music is pleasant enough, but gets a bit repetitive. And as for the core gameplay, well, it’s a platformer where you play a prehistoric critter trying to eat other creatures before they eat you. While you can certainly have fun with it, the play control can be a bit stiff, the hit detection isn’t always intuitive, and a lack of mercy invulnerability leads to frequent stun-lock deaths from faster enemies. The stages are straightforward left-to-right affairs with occasional breaks for mountain climbing or tedious elevator mazes. In short, it’s a serviceable but mediocre platformer for Super NES—nothing that stands out.
But E.V.O. has ambitions that belie its surface presentation. Like Spore, the sprawling modern-day project with ambitions that push the boundaries of its grasp, E.V.O. seeks to take the player through nearly the entire history of life on Earth. Starting out as a tiny fish swimming the vast seas of the Devonian period, each creature you defeat and consume adds to the “evolution points” used to improve your attributes and capabilities in the struggle to survive. In an impressive display of coding, the game lets you evolve various body parts individually and combines them into a (more or less) cohesive playable creature, which might end up realistic or highly fanciful. Most of these evolutions have intuitive consequences—a larger body makes you more durable but may slow you down, better jaws give you a more powerful bite, a tail may provide added agility, horns give you a powerful charging attack but may break, and so on. Balancing these evolutions to your taste can actually go a long way toward making the game more playable, letting you tweak agility and power to your liking.
Assuming you have the points, that is. At the beginning of each major stage of history, your creature reverts to a weak example of a new type of being -- fish, amphibian, reptile, and mammal. These reversions can make the game a bit of a grind—rat-hunting is literally a staple when starting out in a new chapter. After spending a little while getting up to speed, though, the possibilities quickly branch out, and the fun kicks in. Who wouldn’t want to be a mouse with the head of a lion, darting in and biting rhinos to death before getting stepped on? A purple land dragon battling Tyrannosaurus rexes for control of the Jurrassic? A shark with a swordfish horn impaling anything that moves?
Speaking of dragons, the entire game is a fascinating mishmash of accurate history and complete fantasy. The basic thrust of the game follows a reasonable evolutionary path, but things get downright Lamarckian when the Mysterious Time Stream steps in to force evolutions on you due to a “change of circumstances.” You’ll battle enemies as realistic as a Styracosaurus or an Eohippus and as mythical as a yeti or an army of super-evolved birdmen. And that’s not even getting into the side scenario where you can evolve into a mermaid, meet sharks armed with plasma guns riding other sharks, and kiss them to death. For a game with a lot of history in it, it clearly doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is probably for the best.
In fact, the mermaid is just one of many evolutionary possibilities that border on being Easter eggs and are easily missed in a first playthrough. The entire avian branch of the tree of life is easily missed and hides a whole secret section of the game, giving a glimpse into otherworldly forces meddling with the course of history. And while most players will gravitate towards the strongest upgrades, giving rise to a mishmash of lion jaws and armored bodies, pursuing other options can lead to cohesive creatures with surprising benefits, such as an agile horse that’s extremely adept at kicking enemies with hit-and-run tactics. Of course, the biggest and perhaps worst-kept secret is a certain evolution leading to a familiar hairless two-legged mammal. Evolving into the mysterious “tool user” provides a whole new level of attack options—but it’s also an evolutionary dead end, removing the option to evolve further during boss battles and potentially making them much more challenging. Life itself, like this game, is full of trade-offs. What do you want to be today?