Niche Game: E.V.O. The Search For Eden

Niche games: Âwe’ve all played them. ÂThey’re the games that you remember for a long time because they’re so unique. ÂSometimes they’re the only ones ever made like them. ÂOther times they were trailblazers for their kind of gameplay. ÂBut what they have in common is the bravery to try something new, allowing them to rise above the imitators. ÂEven though there might be newer games with shinier graphics, these games are still worth playing because they’re something different, something special.

Summed up, E.V.O. Search for Eden is an experience-based action sidescroller based loosely on the process of evolution. It was released in North America in 1993 by Enix America Corp.

The intro of the game is a conversation with Gaia as she sends you on a mission to help evolution along. Strange crystals have suddenly appeared all over the world that, when eaten, cause creatures to suddenly evolve into extremely powerful creatures that no others can compete with. These unnatural animals are interfering with the natural course of evolution set forth by Gaia. She sends you to help her remove these obstacles to allow the natural course of life to continue.

The game begins with you controlling a minnow, small, toothless, with weak skin and not many health points. Nearby are the weakest creatures in the sea, jellyfish. At this point they’re a challenge, taking several bites to finish off, and you’re likely to be stung several times in the process. At this point you can only take a few tings before you die. When you defeat one it turns into a meat item. By eating it you replenish your health points and increase your evolution points. You can also eat plants to replenish your health points, but those don’t carry evolution points.
The real uniqueness of the game comes from the evolution system. At any time you can access the evolution menu and spend your evolution points. You can upgrade many parts of your body. Upgrade your jaws to increase the damage you inflict when you bite, your body size to gain more health points at the cost of maneuverability, your tail to gain speed. You can even add a horn to give you a weapon to ram enemies with, or a glowing lure that dangles from the front of your head and attracts weaker enemies into the reach of your jaws. There’s no set order that you have to upgrade these things. You can upgrade incrementally, stepping each component of your body step by step, or you can pick just one or two components and save up for the most expensive version, leaving you a tiny minnow body with needle-toothed “Fierce jaws”. This makes the game play very customizable, you can replay multiple times with different strategies for different gameplay experiences.

If you die in the game, you’ll never see a “Game Over”. Gaia resurrects you, taking away a portion of your evolution points as a penalty. This is good for those players who want to challenge themselves and take risks.

You travel the first world, a series of levels, as a fish. In every world there’s at least one mini-boss and then a final boss, and you must upgrade wisely to be able to defeat these powerful enemies. In the second world you start at the base amphibian body. In later worlds you become a reptile, and eventually a mammal.

Besides these major generic forms, you can take more specialized tracks of evolution. Mastering the game doesn’t require you to become a bird, but you can become one. In this way you can avoid many of the conflicts, though that may not be the best strategy, as you don’t get evolution points unless you kill, and it may leave you unprepared for the boss battles.

Yes, you can become a human, and I’ve done it. It requires an obscure and unlikely series of upgrades that I won’t spell out here. There are clues in the game how to do it, or you can always look it up yourself. Me, I didn’t care for the form. The four-legged mammals in the game have the ability to bite or to kick with their hind legs, which is a major advantage. The kick knocks enemies to a distance giving you time to maneuver. The human lacks this kicking ability, so even though its rock hammer is powerful, I don’t like it as much. Me, I prefer more outlandish forms, with big needle-like teeth, horse legs for strong kicks, and nice tough rhinoceros skin.

The game can be as challenging as you want it to be. If you want it to be more challenging, then you can try making it through the game with minimal upgrades. In the later levels you’ll be fighting creatures far superior to you. If you can defeat the final shark boss in the ocean stages with just the minnow form, that is impressive indeed. Or you can make sure you’re upgraded to the highest form of every body part. This will take extra time because of the experience building necessary, but for most players the boss characters should not be insurmountable if you take some time to experience build.

The final boss of the game is a long, long battle, and takes a great deal of time and learning of the boss’s fighting patterns, but it’s that much more satisfying because of it. Overall this game is so unique and fun that I would recommend it to anyone.

If you want to find a copy of E.V.O., it will take a little work. Unfortunately, this game has not been added to the list of games available on the Nintendo Wii’s Virtual Console. It is still possible to find a cartridge of the game, but it will cost you. I found my copy in a pawn shop for $30, and that was 10 years ago, so I guarantee it will be harder to find and more expensive than that now. A quick eBay search as I’m writing this article showed two entries: a “buy it now” price of $70 and an auction with the current price of $44. It’s listed as “rare”. The best way to play the game is to find an SNES emulator and a ROM for the game so you can play it on your PC. This is often a challenge in itself, as many of the sites that have ROMs available are no longer maintained and suffer from link rot. It may take multiple tries to find sites that can provide a useable ROM.

But however you find a copy, it’s well worth the effort to play this amazing game. Enjoy!