Last week, I was having a drink with a couple of friends, and mentioned that the next thing I was going to be reviewing for this blog would be E.V.O.: Search for Eden. Immediately, both guys’ eyes lit up, and they started gushing about how amazing the game was, and how much nostalgia they associated with it. At that point, I had barely begun to fool around with the opening few levels, so I was a bit taken aback by the reaction – was this obscure little game from 1992 one of the SNES’ hidden gems? Well… no, sadly. And I already know I’m going to catch hell for saying so, but in my honest opinion, E.V.O. isn’t all that good.
What E.V.O. is, however, is one of the most ambitious and creative games of its day. You initially play as a simple little fish, eating seaweed and the occasional uppity jellyfish. There’s some back story about being the chosen one of the daughter of the sun, or some such nonsense, but essentially it’s swim, chomp, eat. As you eat jellyfish, you accumulate points, which you can use to evolve yourself – you can develop stronger jaws for instance, or grow a horn. Evolving allows you to swim faster, bite harder, and tackle tougher denizens of the deep. And so it goes, until you eventually find yourself taking on a shark boss. Beat him, and suddenly you undergo an even more startling, pokemonesque transformation, as you pop out a few legs and some lungs and find yourself whipped forward in time to the age of early amphibians. And so it goes, through five worlds that take you through dinosaur times, into the ice age, and on into the age of early man. The concept behind this game is a solid one – in fact, I’d say it verges on brilliance. Unfortunately, the execution leaves a lot to be desired.
E.V.O. is a frustrating experience most of the time. It’s one of the most grind-heavy games I’ve ever played (and I’ve gleefully plunked down my monthly fifteen bucks to play World of Warcraft for over six years now). This is a game in which you can progress at a normal speed and run up against a boss that you’re woefully underequipped to deal with, or you can spend an hour grinding away at jellyfish and tiny lizards to stockpile Evolution Points, and then still find the boss to be next to impossible. And while grinding, even the tiniest enemies can sometimes strike it lucky, get up into your hit-box of personal space, and annihilate your health bar in short order. Though there’s no game overs, and thus you effectively have infinite lives, each death will cost you roughly half your Evolution Points, adding to the frustration and tedium.
The bosses are the biggest problem I have with this game, as they are just way too hard to be reasonable threats. After dying to the second boss again and again, I finally broke down and checked online, to see if I was doing something wrong. What I found were pages upon pages of suggestions on how to glitch the boss’ positioning, or how to refill your health bar mid-fight by evolving and de-evolving the cheapest attribute over and over for a sneaky recharge. If a boss battle is so hard that you need to cheat your way through it, something has gone wrong. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be a challenge to progress in the game, but that challenge should be reasonable – or at least attainable.
Still, I do understand why E.V.O. might hold a special place in someone’s heart. The graphics are bright, cartoony and fun. The music is excellent, the closest a 16-bit system can get to a symphonic sound. And again, the concept and premise are both solid. For all of that, though, if the game simply isn’t fun, I can’t in good conscience recommend it.
Final Score – 5/10