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.

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Metal Combat: Falcon’s Revenge (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.

Remember the Super Scope? That clunky and oversized SNES gun that went through batteries faster than Homer Simpson does beers? It sure was a piece of garbage and most of the games that it supported were pretty much not worth any of your time. There was, however, one game that was incredibly epic. One game that I wish would get a proper sequel, or be re-released on the Nintendo’s WiiWare service. This game is none other than the sequel to Battle Clash, Metal Combat: Falcon’s Revenge. With a name like Metal Combat: Falcon’s Revenge, how could this game possibly suck? That’s easy to answer. It can’t suck. At all.

I first played Metal Combat in 1994, shortly after it was released in North America at the end of 1993. I would watch in awe as my brother fought through stage after stage with the Super Scope. When I got my hands on it, I found the gun controller to be very bulky and exceptionally hard to get used to. After I was able to adjust, I learned to love the game and played the hell out of it probably more than my brother did.

Metal Combat, the sequel to the drastically inferior Battle Clash, put players in control of the ST (Standing Tank, another name for mech) Falcon. The Falcon’s weapon systems were controlled by the player, which is where the Super Scope came into play. In many ways, this was one of the first and only SNES titles that felt like proper first person games. The game was played from a first person perspective and the Falcon’s cannon was, quite literally, the bulky plastic device that was resting on your shoulder. Metal Combat was a fiercely immersive game at the time, and it utilized the Super Scopre brilliantly. I can’t really say much about the controls because, well, it was the Super Scope! Point and shoot, we all know the drill. It was essentially just a very graphically advanced Duck Hunt.

The joy of playing Metal Combat came from the battles. Each stage was a one on one fight with an enemy ST that you had to destroy. The cool thing is that they were fully destructable and you could blow off their arms, legs, weapons, whatever. It was up to you to destroy your enemies in whatever way you wished, which was a very cool change of pace because back in 1993, most gamers were used to just pointing their characters at the enemy and shooting it until it died. Metal Combat moved the bar up substantially for SNES games, and the level of immersion that the destructable bosses provided was awesome.

I’ll always remember the bosses in the game very well. They were very memorable, except for a select few. Garam, Wong, Viscount, and Thanatos will always be remembered fondly by me. Three of those bosses (all except Wong) were featured in the original Battle Clash and were the only returning characters aside from the player’s ST Falcon. That says just how badass and cool they were at the time.

One aspect of Metal Combat that was loads of fun was the two player mode. Yes, this game had a freaking two player mode! The coolest thing about it was the fact that the second player actually played as the boss characters. Now how cool is that? At the time, it felt like the most amazing versus mode in the world to me and I loved playing as the boss characters while my brother or friends would play as one of the protagonist characters (Falcon or Tornado, the latter being unlockable). Viscount was always my favourite, because he seemed like a knight-like mech. He had a badass shield and, instead of a sword, had a powerful cannon that had one of the most devastating attacks in the entire game if it hit properly. I cannot even begin to describe how cool this versus mode was to me back in 1994. In recent years, I’ve played it with friends on emulators. While the challenge of the Super Scope isn’t present, we would still have some incredibly close battles.

There was also a time trial mode, which was pretty enjoyable. Essentially, the player had to play through the bosses and try to better their times on each boss. I eventually got most of the bosses down to being defeated in five to fifteen seconds each. In order to defeat them so quickly, you have to find their weak points. Some bosses make it really obvious, like ST Wong who just has to be hit in the middle once with your most powerful attack. Others, like Garam, often hide their weak points and force you to play a waiting game until they expose it for you, or you could just blast away whatever covers the weak point, which is fun too.

Overall, I have to say that this was by far the best Super Scope game ever developed, and I am shocked that Nintendo has never decided to resurrect the Battle Clash/Metal Combat franchise. The Wii is the perfect console for it, so the fact that this gem remains totally unknown to the newer generations of gamers is a damn shame, it really is. Especially since the developer of the game, Intelligent Systems, still makes games for Nintendo.

I demand a new game in this franchise! Nintendo, do us Metal Combat fans a favour and bring this awesome series back to life!

Final Fantasy VI (SNES, 1994)

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.

Most gamers these days tend to say that their favourite Final Fantasy is VII, which is cool. It was a well made game and Square really did a good job with it. There is one game in the series that gives VII a run for it’s money in terms of popularity with the fans however, and interestingly enough it is not one of the 3D installments. No, the game in question is the 16-bit 2D Final Fantasy VI.

The fact that a two dimensional installment in the series is in constant contention for “best of the entire series” says quite a lot about the game, I think. Obviously the graphics aren’t fully up to par anymore, so folks who held onto their dicks while playing the gorgeous Final Fantasy XIII are unlikely to be blown away by much in Final Fantasy VI. When the game was released however, the graphics were fairly pretty. Fortunately, the graphics were only a plus back in the day, a nice addition on top of an already stellar package.

So, if Final Fantasy VI does not get so much love for it’s visuals, then what has the series’ fans talking about the game even today? Turn your eyes to Final Fantasy VII, which unfortunately looks like ass by today’s standards. The character models were already kind of crumby when the game was first released for whatever reason, so it’s understandable that Final Fantasy VII’s visuals can almost induce vomiting these days. The game is ugly as hell, but it’s still loved for it’s story and characters. The exact same applies to Final Fantasy VI, and I’m going to explain why I feel that this game, my favourite in the series, has a leg up on it’s older and younger siblings.

Like most RPGs during the 16 bit era, Final Fantasy VI opening sequences hinted at a great war that took place hundreds of years ago. In this game’s case, it was the War of the Magi. This war was fought between Espers and Humans, and nearly destroyed the world. The war ended with the Humans exiling Espers to their own domain. The victory was not one sided however, as the Human civilization was set back hundreds of years, losing their technological advances and being forced to start over again. By the time the present day rolls around, it’s pretty clear that the dark ages are gone as the player gets a glimpse of Vector’s technologically impressive (and menacing) castle.

After the introduction sequence explains the war briefly, it ends after posing a “what if the war happens again?” sort of question before introducing a few playable characters. A girl and two Imperial soldiers (Biggs/Vicks and Wedge) appear over the town of Narshe where an Esper was recently found. This would be pretty big news considering the fact that Espers almost wiped out the Human race one thousand years ago.

So the player takes control of the three characters in their attack on Narshe as they attempt to capture the Esper. I can’t help but think that this was bad writing on Square’s part. In a real life situation, I’m sure that an Imperial Empire would send more than three people to capture a powerful creature. Perhaps an entire squad? It would have made more sense to do so since the two soldiers are killed off by the Esper, Tritoch. The girl survives and is revealed to be Terra, one of the game’s three main protagonists.

For the first several hours, the player spends their time learning about Terra, the Empire, the Returners, and much more. I won’t really go into the story too much since I assume that just about anyone reading this has either completed the game and doesn’t need a refresher, or is interested in playing the game and would probably prefer not to be spoiled. So, ignoring the story for the rest of this article, I think it’s time to talk about other aspects of the game.

The cast of characters is pretty staggering for a Final Fantasy. In fact, Final Fantasy VI has the largest character roster out of all the games. There is plenty of variety so most people will be able to enjoy their own little “favourite teams” so to speak. The joy of having so many characters is the development that you get out of several of them. Only a few characters receive little character development, which is alright. Some characters such as Terra, Locke, Celes, or Cyan have quite a lot of backstory that is a lot of fun to learn about. Cyan in particular is one character who my heart always goes out to, as he went through hell and back throughout the game. By the end of the game, he’s probably still going through his own personal hell that he keeps to himself and you really have to feel bad for the guy.

Opposite the playable characters is the game’s central antagonist, Kefka. I explained in my “top 5 Final Fantasy villains” why I think Kefka is the absolute best villain in the series, so I won’t rehash what I said there. You can check it out for yourself by going to the “top 5” submenu at the top of the page, just under the Review Depot banner. I praised Kefka for being so deliciously evil, and he does it all too well. Even Sephiroth would be jealous of Kefka’s antics. Throughout the course of the game, Kefka does so much evil that you truly do want to punish his sadistic ass, though you love the guy at the same time for being so off the wall and insane. Square really did a fantastic job of making a funny, goofy character so evil and despicable. They have never managed to make a villain quite like Kefka ever since, though they came close with Kuja.

The gameplay of Final Fantasy VI is fairly standard. There isn’t a lot to the game that raised the bar back in 1994, and the most complicated gameplay feature was the method used to learn new spells. The Esper system was a lot like a barebones Materia system in which characters learned new spells from Espers from gaining AP in battle. It wasn’t revolutionary, but it worked fairly well.

Aside from the characters, the aspect of Final Fantasy VI that still stands the test of time to me is the music. For a sixteen year old 16 bit RPG, this game sounds pretty awesome. The overworld map music (at the beginning and towards the end) is very compelling and engaging, and some character themes such as Celes’ saddening overture can very well almost bring a tear to your eyes – and it may very well do so at one point in the game. Kefka, considering how evil the man is, has one of the silliest themes I have ever heard, but it works so well for him. Figaro’s theme, the boss music, and even the entire Opera sequence sound brilliant, and Nobuo Uematsu really did an amazing job in this game. I cannot help but admire the music of Final Fantasy VI.

Everything I have mentioned comes together to make this my favourite game in the entire series, as well as one of my favourite games of all time. No Final Fantasy can truly compare to this one, except perhaps Final Fantasy VII.

If you have never played this 16 bit masterpiece, you owe it to yourself to get your hands on it one way or another.

Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen (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.

I must have only been ten or eleven years old when my brother and I were staying with our grandparents for a few weeks in the summer. He would always bring the Super Nintendo, and one year he happened to rent a rare game by Enix that his friend had talked about called Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen.

Indeed, it was a very rare game. I recall a magazine (probably Nintendo Power) that I read at the time indicate that this game had a very limited distribution. Considering the fact that it was a real challenge to even find the game in Halifax, the capital of my province, said a lot.

I remember it all too clearly. It was a bright sunny day in the village of Mount Denson, and we were cooped up inside looking at the TV. My brother put the cartridge into the Super Nintendo and turned it on, and from there he played the hell out of Ogre Battle. I was just an observer, sitting back on the couch watching in amazement at what looked to be the most amazing game ever. The graphics were very cool when this game was released. The stage maps were simply breath taking.

It would be a little while longer before I would get to play Ogre Battle myself. My brother liked the game so much that he hunted down a copy to buy. Of course, it was his SNES so he played the hell out of it and had control over when I could play, but when I did get to finally sit down and play Ogre Battle, it was simply amazing.

I can’t seem to recall what I felt the first time I ever played the game. Since that day when I first tasted Ogre Battle, I have beaten it dozens of times, and I can’t even count how many times I started new games. What I do know, though, is that Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen has become one of my favourite video games ever. I believe that my brother holds it in the same regard. He often says that he doesn’t really play video games anymore, which is true for the most part, but whenever Ogre Battle is brought up between us he seems to share the same love for it that I do. When it is mentioned around us, we seem to act like two old men reminiscing about the good old days.

Now I could probably go on forever about how Ogre Battle made me feel, but I should probably say why this game holds such a special place in my heart, meaning more to me than other SNES greats such as Final Fantasy VI and Super Mario World.

Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen, is considered an RPG, but I like to think of it more as a fantasy war simulation/strategy game. In Ogre Battle, you take the role of the leader of the rebel Liberation Army who rises up against the corrupt Empress Endora.

The gameplay and mechanics in Ogre Battle are actually really great, and I’ve never seen them repeated except in the N64 sequel, Ogre Battle 64. In Ogre Battle, you literally control an army. You can have up to one hundred in your army and can divide them up into groups of five. The groups, which the game refers to as units, are used in the stages to combat the local bad guys.

Every character has their own name, class, several stats, and so on, Regarding class, any character is free to become whatever their base class allows them to develop into. Fighters can become knights, wizards, samurais, and if you’re really lucky, eventually they may be able to turn into liches. Amazons (female archer characters) can be upgraded into clerics, valkyries and witches. Again, if you are lucky, amazons may eventually upgrade into princesses. There are dozens of character classes in the game and I always find that my army develops differently each time I play, which says a lot considering I have literally played this game over fifty times.

The earliest stages take about ten minutes to beat but, towards the end of the game, you’ll be sitting on the same maps for an hour in some cases. Ogre Battle isn’t a game for people who aren’t serious about the genre. Considering the fact that there are over twenty mandatory stages to plow through, and that many indeed take about an hour, you’re looking at a pretty lengthy game that demands determination and devotion.

As far as I’m aware, Ogre Battle is also one of the first console games to have several endings. There are twelve possible endings, and I definitely know that I haven’t gotten all of them yet. There’s a lot to do in this game from trying to get the best items, best classes, bonus characters, all side quests, the rare and elusive “merchant”, and many other things. Ogre Battle may look simplistic, but it’s quite a deep game and, if you give it a chance, is incredibly rewarding. There is a reason why this game commands so much of my respect. Give it a try if you like RPGs, strategy games, or even war games.