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With the relative lull in new releases gaming has been experiencing, I’ve been able to spend a lot of time playing older games. And I’ve been loving it. I’ve been able to work on my retro games pile of shame. Few of my recent retro excursions have been as interesting as E.V.O.: Search for Eden.
E.V.O. is a SNES game from developer Almanic (which has been defunct since 1998) and publisher Enix. It came out in North America in 1993. In a sea of 16-bit platformers and action games, E.V.O.: Search for Eden stands out.
And I do hope that you forgive the “in a sea …” cliché (especially you, my editor), but it is appropriate for this game. E.V.O.: Search for Eden literally starts in the sea.
Finding your legs
E.V.O. is a game about evolution. You begin as a fish in the prehistoric ocean. You start weak, but you can kill other creatures and eat their meat to earn evolution points. You can then spend these to evolve new body parts, like a dorsal fin, stronger jaws, or hard scales.
It’s a simplified take on “survival of the fittest” evolution, but that works well on a simple system like the SNES. The gameplay loop has you taking on progressively stronger enemies as you evolve into a more advanced creature, giving you access new eras of prehistory. Eventually, you’ll escape the ocean and walk among the dinosaurs. Toward the end, you’ll explore the world of early men.
The hook is an ambitious one, especially for the early ’90s. It’s also satisfying. I could happily spend half an hour farming meat just so I could afford a new evolution. Depending on your choices, you can end up as a rhinoceros-like mammal, a bird creature, or even a human.
E.V.O. does have some issues that keep it from being an all-time SNES great. When you get hit, you don’t have any invisibility frames, meaning you don’t get a short period when the enemy can’t hit you again. This means that a single enemy can deplete all of your health in a couple of seconds if you’re unlucky. Boss fights can also be frustrating. They can require memorization of enemy patterns to succeed, or you have to hope that you stumble across an evolution form that can stun the enemy in place and make the fight trivial. You’ll end up spending a lot of time battling the same yeti when you really just want to move on to the next era.
The music is inconsistent. Sometimes the soundtrack is serene and mystical, almost giving me Ecco the Dolphin vibes. Other times it’s repetitive, clunky, and annoying.
But E.V.O.: Search for Eden still manages to stick with me. The SNES has a big library of well-worn classics. It’s delightful to discover something this creative and fresh. I’m not saying that it is going to become your new favorite SNES game over the likes of Super Metroid or Mega Man X, but it is worth a playthrough for anyone who is a fan of the 16-bit system.
If you can find the original cartridge and still have an SNES to play it with, great. If not, you should try E.V.O. any way you can.
The RetroBeat is a weekly column that looks at gaming’s past, diving into classics, new retro titles, or looking at how old favorites — and their design techniques — inspire today’s market and experiences. If you have any retro-themed projects or scoops you’d like to send my way, please contact me.
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