Before they swallowed my beloved Squaresoft whole and reduced them to churning out a million and a half remakes of Final Fantasy 3, Enix had a knack for publishing games that had really interesting premises while being let down by sub-par gameplay. Actraiser 2 and Illusion of Gaia are perfect examples of this, being interesting, but not quite to the point where they’re enjoyable games. E.V.O.: Search For Eden falls into that pattern perfectly, being a game where you have the freedom to evolve your character in multiple ways, but that’s ultimately tarnished by repetitive grinding and painful gameplay.
It starts so good
The beginning to E.V.O. is incredibly misleading. In it, you play as a creature starting its existence in the sea, and everything works surprisingly well. The controls feel solid enough to work, the premise is incredibly interesting, and playing for awhile will give you the impression that something magical is lying in wait further in. That’s a lie, though; not only is the beginning the most interesting part of the game, but everything that works in the first hour of the game is suddenly thrown out of the window and replaced with some of the weakest platforming mechanics you’ll find on the Super Nintendo.
And what else is there, really?
There’s a story in E.V.O. in the same sense that there’s a story in Michael Bay movies—yes, it’s technically there, but it’s poorly written and really only exists to move things along. Basically, you’re a sea creature who Gaia (a personification of Earth) has taken a special liking to. Her father, the sun, has decided that everyone’s going to play a little game called “survival of the fittest,” but don’t go thinking that this game has an educational spin to it; E.V.O.’s relationship to the theory of evolution is fan fiction at best, throwing talking animals, aliens, sword-wielding birds, and magical crystals at you with equal enthusiasm.
Anyway, Gaia needs a “husband,” and all eyes are on the playable fish. Apparently planets are hot for sea creatures. The whole thing becomes incredibly creepy as Gaia revives you when you die, sends you through time portals into different evolutionary stages, and always seems to lurk around the corner like some kind of deranged stalker. As per the title, the goal of the game is to make it through evolution to the Garden of Eden. If this sounds like the weirdest story you’ve ever heard, then good news: most of the game is just awful platforming and you’re bound to quit long before you’ve seen any of it.
Swimming is fun
The entire game should have stayed in the water, honestly, because the best sections of the game take place underwater. In the water, you’re given the freedom to move in all directions, and the large amount of control this affords you makes the early section of the game deceptively entertaining.
Everything else sucks, though
You’re soon in the endlessly disappointing “land” era, however, and this makes up 90% of the game. What makes this so depressing is how awkward the controls suddenly become; enemies can send you flying back and take away your ability to control your character for a moment simply by damaging you (even when it makes no sense whatsoever), knocking you down from something you’re climbing or simply stun-locking you until you die.
Stun-locking murders this game
This isn’t something that happens once or twice in a playthrough. Enemies can clip into you so as to hold you in place while they damage you by touching you, making it impossible to escape their clutches, and they’ll do so anywhere from 20-50 times before you’ve finished the game. In the best case scenario, they only end up taking most of your health before you get lucky and escape. In the worst, this spells an inescapable and frustrating death. There’s no real fairness to the way this works, and if any of the people who worked on this game had any experience with platforming mechanics prior to working on this game, it doesn’t show.
There’s also annoying grinding
While you’re able to upgrade many elements of your creature’s body (which affects your hit points, damage output, jumping ability, and special effects), doing so requires “evolution points,” which are obtained by killing and eating other creatures you encounter. You never seem to gain enough, however, so you’re reduced to running back and forth across certain levels, waiting for enemies to respawn so that you can farm them for points. Even worse, points don’t carry over from era to era, so you may grind for a ton of points in the fish stage and upgrade yourself to the highest extent possible, but you’re going to start the next era with no points and a new body that doesn’t carry over any of your upgrades, forcing you to grind yet again. This becomes absolutely maddening after awhile.
Sometimes things just happen
There are moments in the game where there’s no obvious “right” thing to do in order to progress. In fact, I’ve played through this game several times and I’m still not sure what triggers certain events. There’s a teleportation event, some volcanic eruptions, and a few other similar scripted things that seem to be triggered after 1-2 minutes of just sitting around or attacking nearby animals, and the lack of clarity (or any kind of indication that “something will happen if you just hang around for a second) can make certain sections of the game unnecessarily confusing.
I love the Super Nintendo, but many of its games include one of my pet peeves: fake choices. Basically, this means that you’re occasionally given the option to “help” or “not help,” but only one of those is the right answer. Choosing wrongly means dialogue loops around and asks again until you finally relent and choose the right answer. In E.V.O.’s defense, there are a few occasions where choosing wrongly actually leads to an entertaining fake ending, but you’re then sent back to the world map, forcing you to restart the stage and play up to the boss fight again. The fake endings just aren’t worth the hassle.
Awful boss fights
A series like Megaman can focus heavily on boss battles because of how solid the gameplay is. E.V.O. has a similar focus on its boss battles, sadly, without having the comfortable mechanics to back them up. The result is often messy, with cheap deaths and stun-locking galore waiting for you at the end of several stages. The final boss fight in particular is notably atrocious, throwing something like 10 mini boss fights at you in a row. The game’s combat simply isn’t anywhere near tight and/or fair enough to handle anything like this.
Even for a Super Nintendo title, E.V.O.’s graphics look totally phoned-in. It has its moments (especially underwater) where things look decent, but like the rest of the game, the graphics become less interesting the second you crawl out onto land. While I don’t think that the graphics make the game, games like this that offer so little else could at least make an effort to be pretty.
The music is ruined by the grinding
E.V.O.’s music is actually pretty decent by SNES standards. Unfortunately, the evolution point grinding is bound to make it headache-inducing because of how repetitive it quickly becomes. Also, the music, like everything else, goes downhill the second you move on from the underwater era.
Here’s what you should do: