EVO: Search for Eden (SNES, 1993)

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.

The Sims Medieval (Review)

When I first heard of The Sims Medieval, I dismissed it as another pointless installment in the Sims series that EA was endlessly milking. Originally, I had no idea that this game supposedly boasted all sorts of new gameplay mechanics that drastically set it apart from its older household-themed siblings.

The Sims Medieval is, in short, the most refreshing entry in the Sims series since the original game. It expands upon and introduces many features, though it also seems to take a few steps back which prevents this from being the definitive life simulation game.

When you boot up Sims Medieval, you’re treated to the game’s very well put together presentation. Music sounds like it came straight out of a renaissance fair or cheesy fantasy movie, and the usual bright and happy blue menus from the previous Sims have been replaced with a lot of brown. Surprisingly, the brown actually works. It is a colourful and vibrant sort of brown, ff that even makes sense.

After beginning a new game from the main menu, you get to watch a clever little cinematic that tells you about the kingdom you’ll be inheriting and then, from there, you get to design your king or queen. Creating a sim in this game is exactly as it was in The Sims 3. When I say exactly as it was before, I mean it’s pretty much ripped straight out of the last game. You have your body and face sliders, voice tempo, clothing selections, and character traits. There’s a little bit less customization here than there was in The Sims 3, though. All clothing options are now full body costumes and outfits, so instead of manually choosing your shirt or pants, you are selecting one entire outfit. They can still be recoloured, which is a definite plus.

Feeding your sims is just as important as ever before.

The notable change in the sims editor for Sims Medieval is the traits. No longer do we just choose several personality traits, but rather just two and then a fatal flaw. The traits are what you’d expect to see (friendly, loves outdoors, etc.) but the fatal flaws add a new dimension to character personalities. It is required that all characters have one, and these fatal flaws range from being a chronic drunk to being blood thirsty and always wanting a fight.

When you finish making a monarch sim, you get to check out the kingdom you get to direct. You basically just start off with your castle, but as you progress you will be able to build many other buildings like barracks, a tavern, and even a wizard tower. In order to construct these buildings, you have to take on quests that award points required for developing your budding kingdom. Quests in a Sims game may sound a little awkward at first, but it works surprisingly well here. You cannot play the game without taking on a quest, and you must accept one from a pretty lengthy list before the game lets you control a sim. Quests can be just about anything you can imagine in a medieval setting. One quest has you trying to find a way to remove a bad luck curse from yourself while another has you going into a cave and forming an alliance with a crab monster. They are pretty varied and are often very fun to do.

Standard Sims gameplay from before is of course present. When you take on a quest, you have an infinite amount of time to complete it. If you don’t feel like working on whatever given quest you are on, you can simply lead your sim around and live out their life by eating gross sounding medieval meals, getting absolutely hammered by brewing alcohol, getting into fist fights and duels to the death, and much more. The interaction is the same here as it has always been in Sims games, meaning you are able to form friendships and relationships with other characters, and you will always have to pay close attention to your character’s mood to make sure they stay happy. In the past, we had to keep our sims happy by managing about eight different bars that represented energy, hunger, fun, atmosphere, and much more. There are only two now, energy and hunger. Culling so many of these bars from past games does this game a lot of good, as it was not uncommon to sometimes to feel overwhelmed when your sims were unhappy over several things at once in previous Sims titles. It is now fairly simple to keep sims happy, as all you have to do is make sure they get to eat and sleep.

All hero sims have their own unique abilities. For instance, the spy can poison drinks.

Their mood bar can still dip into the red if you’re not careful, however. Various actions can have a negative impact on your sim’s focus, which is a statistic that governs how your sim feels and how well they perform their duties. The higher a sim’s focus, the more happy and successful they will be. Focus can be increased by making your sims do good things such as bathing, eating, winning a fight, and getting married. Focus will decrease when sims get sick, are hurt from other sims or wild animals, and even when they are locked up in the stocks and bombarded in the face with eggs and tomatoes.

As your kingdom expands and you build new buildings, you will get to create hero sims. The monarch character was the first, but each building you add to your kingdom is managed by one as well. The tavern will grant you a bard sim, the smith gives you a blacksmith, and the cathedral gives you a priestly sim. You get to design each of these characters by yourself and then eventually use them on various quests. There are some quests that are specific to certain hero sims, such as one where the bard aspires to become a better writer so that they can impress people with their plays and poetry. Some quests will have you using two or more hero sims that you have created, which helps you build chemistry between the characters and feel like the sims in the kingdom really are working together to overcome problems.

Each hero sim has their own distinct style of gameplay as well beyond the standard eat, sleep, and have fun. For instance, the monarch sim can willingly arrest anyone without any consequences, the merchant sim can open their shop and sell wares, and the bard sim can play music to earn money and seek inspiration from other sims. Each and every single sim feels very unique once you check out what they can do, and it’s fun to try them all out.

It is worth nothing that you cannot actually construct any buildings in the way that you could design your own homes in previous Sims games. All buildings already have preset designs, it is just up to the player to furnish them and make them look unique. As far as customizing the interior of buildings go, Sims Medieval probably offers us the most options. There are loads of items to purchase, and the amount of options for painting your floors and walls is really impressive. So, while The Sims Medieval isn’t much of a playground for budding architects, I think that aspiring interior decorators will be very happy.

The kingdom map starts small, but players will end up with a very bustling empire.

The graphics in Sims Medieval are probably slightly better than they were in The Sims 3, but that is not saying much. The game has a very silly look to it and graphics junkies should probably look elsewhere if they are only looking to play a game that is very graphically advanced. The graphics in Sims Medieval aren’t top of the line, but they are certainly sufficient. At the very least, they will be an upgrade for Sims 3 players. The sound is also exactly what you would expect from a Sims game. Simlish, the language spoken by Sims, is of course here and is as interesting as ever to listen to. Environmental sounds, as well as those caused by sims going about their daily business, aren’t breaking any boundaries but certainly sound good enough. Keep in mind that the game is presented in a comical fashion, so neither the graphics nor the sound are meant to be realistic.

In the end, I would have to say that The Sims Medieval turned out to be a very pleasant surprise and I’m a little disappointed that it has flown under the radar of just about everyone, since nobody I know seemed to have even heard of this game except for one Sims junkie. This is certainly a Sims game and it should appeal to anyone who liked the previous games, but the added depth from questing and managing a kingdom is probably enough to lure in those who could never get into The Sims before. The medieval setting is also very interesting, and I think that anyone who likes fantasy settings could enjoy this game as well. This is certainly the most original Sims game to come along since the very first one was released eleven years ago.

Final Score