In 1859, Charles Darwin published his groundbreaking work "The Origin of Species: By Means of Natural Selection." It is one of those works that has revolutionized the way scientists view species development and has opened up scientific understanding of how life on this planet has changed, expanded, and branched-off over billions of years. Darwin's theories have come under scrutiny and have brought forth a fair amount of controversy from biblical literalists and fundamentalists - however, there is much to be gained from reading Darwin's work (or at the very least understanding the basics.) This opposition proposed a different theory - that of "intelligent design." A theory in which the universe was created by a supreme being and any variance in species is according to the plan of this deity.
One hundred and thirty four years after Darwin's "Origin" was published, video game company Enix released a revolutionary action/RPG/Simulation game for the Super NES called EVO: Search for Eden. It tells the tale of a creature that must evolve through a series of stages in order to win the favor of Gaia - the earth mother. The game fuses elements of intelligent design, polytheism, hippie-spiritualism, Darwinism, and a splash of good ol' fashioned alien-love for good measure. I have a hunch this isn't quite what Darwin had in mind.
Richard Dawkins just spit out his Fruity Pebbles after seeing this
E.V.O introduces us to our intelligent designer right off - The sun. The sun birthed the planets and decided that life will thrive on the third planet, Gaia. It is your job as one of these early creatures to evolve from a tiny fish into a land-based mammal in order to win a place next to Gaia in Eden. Does it sound like we're mixing up our science and mythologies yet? Best of all...
...the means by which your character evolves are evolution crystals. These crystals were placed here on earth by Martians. I'm not making that up - I totally wish I were.
Alright, so maybe the mythology/plot of this game is totally bonkers but at least we can take comfort in knowing that the gameplay is a wonderful thing. You control your creature through several stages & worlds where you must battle tougher opponents and munch on weaker opponents in order to gain evolution points. These evolution points are the equivalent of XP in this game and help you to increase your various character stats. Every character change you make can have an effect on another attribute of your character so it's always wise to be conscious of this when you start thinking that your dinosaur really needs a wicked cool spiral horn and a pogo-jumping tail. Control is solid as can be as you move perfectly on command - can often run with a double-tap of the direction (which is usually a really nice feature in games such as this) your jump, attack and everything else is dependant on what you have/have not evolved on your character. This gives the game a really deep level of gameplay and allows for multiple run-throughs without getting bored and feeling you've done the same thing multiple times.
That is - until we discuss the one key flaw in this game (which, let's face it: is a key flaw in nearly every XP based RPG) which is grinding. Much like many games before and since - you have to grind for evolution points and it can become a chore at times. That's why the save feature is your friend and you've got to try your darndest not to die too often (lest you be willing to lose half of your EP progress.) If you don't mind spending an hour or two jumping on lizards in the middle section of the game, you'll be well rewarded through most of the rest of the game. It's primarily in that dinosaur stage and early mammal stages where you will spend the most time grinding as your enemies are probably some of the toughest there. Those darned bees...
The graphics aren't likely to win the game a spot in any "best graphics" polls, but they definitely do more than get the job done. The graphics are colorful and cartoony - which may not be necessarily what you want for your big scientific game on evolution (but seeing as most of this game eschews real science for fun gameplay, convenient game mechanics, wacky storyline, and fence-sitting "have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too" Creatio-lution - this game isn't really much of an educational tool anyway.) The fun cartoony graphics have me cracking up at many different times because of the goofy expressions that characters make or just how wacky and deformed I can brew up a tragedy of evolution - complete with horns, wings, a spiked tail, and tiger jaws. That thing is 8 kinds of ridiculous and the slightly cheeseball cartoony graphics actually help lighten up the otherwise serious tone of the game. It is stylistically similar to Chrono Trigger in terms of color/character shading/development - just on a lesser scale.
The music is truly magnificent and something that adds an awful lot to this game. The score is full of harpsichord chimes, that classic "angel synth," brooding and heavy tunes and light orchestral numbers. The music can get a touch repetitive because of all of the time you're going to be spending in these worlds grinding for evolution points - but the music is as diverse and quality as can be expected. I especially enjoy some of the doofy sounding tunes that come up when you hit land for the first time. You'll hear a couple of really goof-ball droopy sounding tunes while blasting lizards in the head through the grass.
The only game where 'Green Meat' is something you strive for
The difficulty level is relatively low -with the occasional spike whenever you hit a boss. The most difficult boss is the final boss (an amoeba-like single-celled creature that spills objects, enemies etc. at you.) With a save feature and the fact that there's no real way to "die" in this game completely - Gaia will pretty much always revive you, stealing some of your evolution points along the way. It's all up to how iron is your will and how bad do you want to see the end.
E.V.O - Search for Eden is one of my all-time favorite games for the Super NES. It's an accessible RPG style life-simulation game that shouldn't be hard for folks who are new to the genre. It's also an incredibly unique game: very few games have come around to tackle a topic such as this and none have done it as well as EVO as far as I'm concerned. Some folks might be put off by the evolution aspect - and yet others might not dig the fact that there's shockingly little science in a game based on a scientific theory. If you belong to either camp - nothing I'm going to say is going to change your position. For the rest of us who can appreciate a game for what it is (and even perhaps for what it isn't) this is the game for you. It's addictive, it's unique, it's original, - sure, it's a smidge pricey - but it's totally worth it. Get a relatively rare, sought-after, and mostly well-regarded Super NES classic. You'll be glad you did!