INFO: My “Retro Vault” reviews are not scored. Instead, I just talk about why I have fond memories of whichever game I’m writing about at the time. Generally, I won’t pick out any bad games for the Retro Vault feature, so scoring them is essentially useless anyway. Enjoy the read.
If there is one thing I did not like about the 1990s, it was that Enix-produced games on the Super Nintendo were always insanely difficult to track down in North America. Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen is a great example of this, but this little gem of a game is another… EVO: Search for Eden. In my opinion, this is one of the Super Nintendo’s absolute best games. This is a shame because it is vastly underrated and, shockingly, still a somewhat unknown game!
My first experience with EVO came around 1998 or 1999 when Super Nintendo emulators were the biggest deal on the internet for gamers. Remember all of those shady rom sites that would lead you to free porn (my, how times have changed) or infest your computer with trojans? A lot of them just had dead links. Ah yes, 1999 was certainly the golden age of Super Nintendo emulation. I had a blast playing through all of my favourite classics that my brother and I had owned on cartridges several years before. It was insanely fun to be playing Final Fantasy VI again. However, my main ambition was to try new games. I played quite a few obscure games at the time just to see what was out there. While skimming the rom list of a random website, I saw a name that seemed vaguely familiar. EVO: Seach for Eden. Very slowly, I had a flashback of reading about the game in an issue of Nintendo Power back in 1993 or 1994. I recall the magazine noting that it was a game by Enix (a developer you could always trust prior to their buyout of Squaresoft) and had a very strong emphasis on evolution. I looked at the few screenshots present in the magazine and I was pumped for the game. However, I never saw the game in any stores and it completely dropped off of my radar for several years until I saw the name appear again on that list of SNES roms. I promptly downloaded it, anxious to experience the game that I had been stoked to play as a little boy. The wait paid off and EVO was a bittersweet experience.
Like Nintendo Power said, EVO is all about evolution. You begin the game as a humble little fish with little means of defending yourself, but you will soon end up becoming quite a formidable predator of the sea thanks to the fantastic evolution system of the game which was, in my opinion, well ahead of its time. You see, you can evolve various parts of your body by spending evolution points. You will amass evolution points by killing enemies and eating the meat that they leave behind. You will be able to spend these points in several categories such as jaws, body size and type, tail, hands and feet, and more. It isn’t entirely impossible to end up with different looking creatures each time you play and, in a way, EVO is a lot like an early version of Spore… But different.
How and why does Spore compare to EVO? Well, as I said, you have freedom over what parts of your body you evolve and when. The whole point is to continue evolving to a point where you are strong and skilled enough to take down the local boss and progress to a new stage of evolution. The main difference is that, while Spore was a pretty bland sandbox simulation game, EVO happens to be a very linear platformer/RPG hybrid that focuses on action and character progression rather than… well, whatever the nonsensical focus of Spore was! As I said, EVO is like an early version of Spore, but it definitely hass less casual appeal. Those who are turned off by the idea of having to level up (via upgrading your body) may be turned off a little, though the steep difficulty in some areas will deter a lot of non-serious gamers.
EVO can be a very ruthless game, as boss fights are anything but cakewalks. I was playing EVO on my TV last night (via emulator, I hooked my laptop up to the TV) and handed the gamepad to my brother and roommate who seemed absolutely enthralled by the game, because he had never seen or heard of it before. I watched him play, and it was clear that he was really enjoying it. As a 28 year old someone who doesn’t play too many games anymore, it was really cool to watch him become briefly absorbed in a classic SNES title. It seems that folks in my age range (about 23-30) really dig playing old SNES games, and when they are presented on a television screen with a wireless gamepad? Even better! Anyway, he managed to reach the boss of the first area in the game. Up until that point, he was doing a really good job of evolving the fish creature that we were jointly playing as. He wasn’t having many difficulties playing through the underwater area, but that all changed one the shark boss made his grand appearance. The confrontation with the boss lasted a whole ten seconds, if even that! Our fish had forty five hit points, and the boss would hit for fifteen damage with every single bite. To make matters worse, he would sometimes get two consecutive hits in! We’re talking the first boss here folks. While EVO is a blast to play and might be a fun little game for casual players to get their feet wet with, they’ll definitely struggle against the tough as nails boss fights. They only get harder and harder as the game goes, and I distinctly remember getting stuck on the queen bee (?) boss many years ago and almost rage quitting!
The most enjoyable aspect of the game? Reaching new periods of time and becoming a new creature. For instance, after you beat the shark boss you evolve into an amphibian and get to crawl onto land. After a short time passes, you then become a reptilian creature that you can even turn into a dinosaur! This is easily my favourite part of the game without a doubt. The dinosaur era of EVO is simply a joy to play, and I suspect that anyone who has played the game will agree with me on that point.
Sadly, I have never beaten EVO. I recall getting stuck years ago at a floating maze-like temple in the sky inhabited by bird people or something of the sort. I don’t know exactly how far in this was, but I certainly hope to surpass it on my new playthrough, especially since I am not experiencing EVO as it was meant to be played – on a television screen. I’m glad to have my wireless Logitech gamepad and a laptop that can conveniently be plugged into my 32 inch Dynex television. I am now experiencing EVO for the first time all over again, and I couldn’t be happier.
If you have never played EVO: Search for Eden, then you are certainly missing out.