Published on July 4th, 2012 | by Nichomaxwell1
A Review of E.V.O.: Search for Eden: No other game like it, for better or for worse…
Year: 1992 (Japan), 1993 (North America) // System: SNES // Publisher: Enix // Developer: Almanic // Genre: Action
>>> To say that E.V.O.: Search for Eden is different would be a massive understatement. No other game plays quite like this hybridization of genres, and the story itself seems eons removed from any other plotline on the console. The best way to view E.V.O. on the Super NES is to qualify it as an epic that feels somewhat similar to 2001: A Space Odyssey in how you approach it. Both titles can drag in pace and cause you to tune out at times, but they both also qualify as cultural literacy in their respective niches. While A Space Odyssey speculated about both our past and future and surprised millions with the imaginative worlds that could come to life in a small film studio, Search for Eden challenged video game conventions that were coming together. It blended genres, gave you a character that constantly changed form throughout the game, and brought in multiple timelines to re-imagine planet Earth before the rise of civilization. Search for Eden also stands out as the first title since Sweet Home that I heavily recommend to retro players not because it’s a fun game to play, but for the following reasons:
E.V.O. combines mythology with astronomy in its opening story. The Sun is seen as the god of the solar system, but it’s also the star that we all see in the sky (unless this game is set in a parallel universe). The Sun speaks to the Earth’s spirit, Gaia (whose avatar is a blue-haired lady that you only see from the shoulders up because she’s…well…a “free” spirit), about her destiny to accommodate life on her planet. As life forms begin to spring up all over, she sets her sights on one specific life form (you), and counsels it through five specific geological periods of Earth’s early history.
You start out as a fish (for the ocean was from whence all life was believed to originate), and slowly work your way through the Cambrian and Ordovician Periods to reach land and sprout legs. Future stages include the Early Creatures of the Land (amphibians), the “Age of Dinosaurs,” the Ice Age, and “Early Man.” Basically, if you need to memorize facts for a test on the planet’s prehistoric period, then plug in this adventure and study up! But don’t take EVERYTHING as fact. Fish didn’t sprout legs on land, and then lose those same legs the minute they dove back into the water. Plus, as far as we know, evolution was not aided by crystals and overseen by mysterious beings. So don’t write that down. Still, I appreciated how the creators speculated that perhaps these prehistorical sets of animals tried to develop human-like societies, but couldn’t because of catastrophic events or a breakdown in social structure. Basically, social commentary shows up in E.V.O. in a surprising number of ways. Also, I liked how they tied their fictional bird people to mysteries surrounding ancient sightings in South America.
As if the premise itself wasn’t something you were accustomed to running across every day, Enix threw a curve ball at you in terms of the game’s structure. It was a side-scroller, sure, but after that, a little hard to categorize. It’s an action game in the sense that you chomp on enemies and feed on their corpses (which always transform into slabs of roast beef, whether they’re mice, dinosaurs, or octopi). However, by eating other creatures do you gain Evolution points, which you can spend on eight separate categories in your Select menu to evolve different physical attributes of your creature. This is where the RPG elements factor in. Not only do evolving different body parts change the physical appearance of your character, but it also affects its stats. For example, evolving your animal’s jaws to grow sharp fangs boosts its attack, while changing the body type can provide swifter movement or higher defense. New additions such as a horn can provide your dash with attack power, but for a limited number of impacts before your horn breaks. Movement starts out as free-form due to your fish swimming through stretched of ocean, but as the game progresses and you adapt to the surface, the structure becomes more linear, with some later levels featuring maze-like designs.
The point is simply to scroll across each time period’s hodgepodge of short levels, but given the number of upgrades you can make to your character, it can be misread in the beginning that you’re supposed to evolve your character altogether, as opposed to the new forms, such as bird, reptile, and mammal, that you either find or are given upon completing a time period. However, if you don’t use evolution points to upgrade your animal, then the endboss will overwhelm you in a heartbeat. However, you can breeze through the common levels, and if you don’t stick around to beat up on enemies (which re-spawn the minute you move away from the panel where they originated) then you will not have eared enough evolution points to purchase the necessary upgrades. You can go back and revisit levels in order to kill and eat more critters, but if you don’t get a kick out of the hit-or-miss means of attacking, then you’ll find this farming aspect to be rather tedious.
Aside from having to continuously beat up on goons in order to just stand a chance against the bosses, the overall combat system works in unison with flaws in design to plague Search for Eden’s core experience. Your attack has a very specific hit box that needs to connect at just the right time in order to do damage. Enemies, however, can damage you repeatedly and with wider hit boxes than your own. Also, it takes your character forever to recover from inflicting damage whereas your opponents can turn right back on you immediately after taking a hit. In addition to iffy combat, some stages come across as repetitive and ill-designed. In the “Ice Age,” two levels in particular return from the “Age of Dinosaurs,” but with revised dialogue. Within one of the stages (the T-Rex stage in the “Ice Age”), some of the surfaces didn’t sustain permanent floors. If you jumped above certain ground panels, you would fall back through them, but if you were to try jumping onto them again, you’d land on the panels because it registered itself as a floor you could ascend to that time. This indicates issues with the programming, but given the game’s impressive length, it’s not surprising that a few design flaws cropped up here and there.
But above all things, the evolution system frustrated me the most.
Some upgrades were priced higher than others because their defense or attack was higher, but in certain cases like the horse body versus the rhino body for the mammal, the horse body cost less for higher speed, but the rhino body, which cost twice as much for more defense, made it harder to get away from pursuers. It annoyed me that after defeating the main boss for each timeline, you were awarded a magnificent number of Evo points…only to lose them all upon switching to the next animal form. Worse, if you didn’t use your green crystal to specifically record one of your beefed up creatures, then you lost them forever. Sure, you could only use them for a limited amount of time in stages that came after their designated time line, but they sure made life easy early on in each time line by piling up the Evo points for later. I didn’t like that, after your character reached the time period of “Early Man,” you didn’t gain any new forms or evolutionary abilities to spend points on. Therefore, you racked up the points to an ungodly amount by the time you reached the final boss. However, I found that you could constantly change certain physical features (for example, choosing to extend or lengthen your character’s neck) just so you could refill your health. If you didn’t figure out this trick until the final boss…like I did…it was like you had unlimited life refills for grinding your way to certain victory. I’m not sure if the developers intended the evolutionary system to be used like that, but the lack of polish certainly led to a nice batch of tricks that actually helped balance the player against a cast of relentless bosses in both strength and hit points.
Make no mistake, I had to buckle down and really focus in order to clear this tiring adventure. Several levels were thrown in just to elongate the playing experience, and didn’t offer much to go back to, not even when you were grinding for experience! I know the creators wanted to immerse you as deeply as possible in a wide, sprawling re-imagining of each prehistorical time line, but unless you enjoyed grinding, history, and/or slow-paced games, then you could become impatient rather quickly to reach the end. But Search for Eden also gave the player some relief in this extensive playthrough. Whenever a player died, he/she neither lost a life nor used up a continue. He/she restarted that same level, but with less Evo points than before (similar to restarting Pokemon with half the pokebucks you had before “whiting out”). Also, a built-in battery backup save system ensured you could save multiple states on the overworld map. Given this is a fairly long game, saving was much appreciated.
In summation, E.V.O. can bring the headaches, and you’re not in for the most fun you’ve ever had while playing a video game. However, the cool side levels you could explore, the plethora of options for customizing the five total creatures that you could evolve into, and the neat alternative endings you could find should give you plenty of reason to see this epic to the end. Although, I must warn you: this game is unsuspectingly dark. Friendly creatures will come up to you and give you hints and helpful advice, but then the game puts them directly in your path, forcing you to kill and eat them. Plus, one particular image focuses on the grisly aftermath of the dinosaur-killing meteor for waaaaayyyy too long…
Challenge: 6/10: The combat system is a little imbalanced in the enemy’s favor, and emphasizes a little too much grinding. There’s not much variety in level progression save for swimming, jumping, rock climbing, and maze-picking. The Flying Fortress in the “Ice Age,” however, had the best overall utilization of stage mechanics and enemy placement.
Handling: 6/10: Your character has obnoxious down time between attacks and jumps that gave enemies free shots at you, regardless of the evolutionary changes you had made. Furthermore, the higher jumping power you could attain through equipping your creature with a better dorsal fin gave you more height, but less control over your jump arcs. You couldn’t always manage where you were going in the air, and this really made fighting airborne creatures a chore.
Innovation: 10/10: I keep saying that “no other game plays like this one” in the Innovation or OVERALLsection, and in a recent review I even commented on how I keep saying that such-and-such doesn’t handle like the rest of the games out there. But truth be told, while its side-scrolling engine and occasional RPG and platforming elements are nothing new, the combination of these factors make for an extremely unique playthrough that you won’t find elsewhere on the Super Nintendo. Also, the premise and theming do an excellent job in selling Search for Eden. Sure, the actual means of “evolving” in this game are not biologically or chronologically accurate, but let’s face it: what other SNES game on the system allows you to experience evolution and the planet’s early history for yourself? The reconstruction of these time periods do very well in mixing popular historical and naturalist theories (i.e. comet killing the dinosaurs, survival of the fittest) with science fictional themes reminiscent of 2001.
Core Experience: 6/10: The faulty evolution system and errors in certain level designs detract from the flow of E.V.O. Some levels seemed like they added in to arbitrarily lengthen the game. Nevertheless, certain means of manipulating the Evo system, the unlimited continues, and numerous save points allow you to set your own pace when it comes to beating this game.
OVERALL: 7/Solid: It’s not the most exciting, but it needs to be played by retro gamers out there because it stands out as one of the Super Nintendo’s unspoken treasures. I feel to have truly experienced the Super Nintendo, you need to have factored in E.V.O. Search for Eden as one of your many playthroughs. For all of its problems, Search for Eden is simply unforgettable.