How do you think the world began and flourished?
I’m not asking about the universe, to be clear, just our particular corner of the void. In varying fields of research, this question has been tackled with varying degrees of seriousness.
Set at first in the depths of an oceanic, pre-historic Earth, E.V.O.: Search For Eden blazes a new, though highly derivative trail, ultimately bringing together one of the stranger cosmologies in gaming. Your character begins but a humble, blue fish, given life in a volcanic ocean bed by the celestial goddess Gaia. A picturesque woman with gleaming blue hair, Gaia is referred to in the introduction as one of the Sun’s children, so the ostensible conclusion is that she represents the Earth’s spirit.
Gaia has a very particular plan for you, fulfilling her own motivations and desires, however opaque from the start — she guides you through five different eras on the planet’s surface, (almost) all before the advent of humanity. At the end of this travail awaits the paradise Eden (as I said, similar to a number of different cosmologies in Japanese entertainment, there’s an odd, derivative Christian foundation at play). Once reached, Eden will serve as the player’s new home, where he or she will live eternally with Gaia.
As it turns out, nor is she shy about bending the natural, survival-of-the-fittest order in service of this goal. If your creature dies, she’ll let you know she’s cheating a bit in bringing you back to life, albeit with your evolution points cut in half. But there you again shall be, however weakened, fresh life breathed into what should have been your corpse. As in life, the eventual most successful in a meritocratic effort may be getting more help than they realize.
I mentioned evolution points just now, which bears further explanation. The core mechanic of E.V.O. is the gradual empowerment of your prehistoric life-form, from flimsy fish to any number of fanged, hideous beasts. As you proceed through each area, to which you can return after clearing, you’ll run into a vast array of other creatures, some docile, some lethally dangerous. In the grand spirit of conquest that life as a human during an obesity epidemic may have prepared you for, your job is to eat them. ALL OF THEM.
Well, maybe just short of that. In truth, you can’t eat everyone, because the fauna of the world always reappear. But the stakes are high — the only way to get evolution points is to gobble up all the meat and carcasses in sight, and only by doing so can you upgrade your body. The points you earn can be applied to different, permanent (if you so desire) transformations to your body. So, starting as a fish, you’d begin evolving your scales and fins, to increase speed and defense, for example. And once you’ve defeated the hierarchical leader of a gang of vicious sharks, and thus won the right to evolve into a land animal, the options really open up.
Part of the game’s irresistible hook is the heavy level of customization at your disposal. Beyond simply outfitting yourself to contend with the marauding threats of a lawless world, there are many different ways to be so constructed. In the third era of time, the age of the dinosaur, you can even evolve into a winged reptile (by flinging yourself off a cliff, naturally), able to rapidly fly to any spot on any given screen, a massive advantage offset only by the awkward angle your new neck will have, when fighting and snapping up loose food.
At the start of the ice age, you’re given a further, pivotal option — to remain a reptile, against the torrent of climatic fate, or to evolve into a mammal. I classify this as pivotal because only by picking mammal will you have the chance to fulfill the game’s rarest outcome, turning into a human being. The process of doing so requires a rather arcane series of specific adaptations in the game’s final map, but lo and behold! Humankind is born. Or, better yet, don’t become a mammal. Flaunt your contempt for adaptation to new, hostile climates and continue being a miniature dragon sorta thing. Can you tell what I chose to do?
Both its music and graphics rise just to the level required to give E.V.O. a polished, professional veneer. Many of the themes are endlessly familiar to me, and remained so even after I’d not played the game for over ten years. This isn’t true in a completely positive sense, I fear, as time spent grinding against iguanas, say, with the same few bars of melody looping over and over again, make it hard to forget in a more obtrusive way. But the compositional quality is strong, and that makes a difference — in all but the rarest situation, a well-scored few tunes will beat out any amount of varied noise. An orchestra in Japan has performed its overworld theme, which while not saying what it would if that happened stateside, does stand for something.
There’s not so much an overt story to E.V.O. as a series of unfolding incidents (broken up by occasionally quite poignant and heartbreaking vignettes) all kept moving by your inexorable drive to kill, rather than be killed (there are rare cases in which being aggressively heartless or bloodthirsty will land you in trouble, despite the essentially brutal nature of the game writ large). Along the way, however, you’ll occasionally bear witness to whispered conversations, drifting down from the skies overhead, speculating about whether to interfere with the evolutionary process or not.
These overseers are in fact Martians, who are monitoring your entire process from the heavens, and who’ve left small crystals scattered throughout the landscape. When eaten, these crystals induce a sudden, unstable change to the entire body, granting a scant few minutes or so of newfound power or ability before changing to back to your old self. You can even become a mermaid using one of these wacky, irresponsibly interventionist little things. And let it be known: mermaids are a lot stronger than humans, shackled to water though they are.
The grueling course through five world maps, dispatching the shark king, the prime frog, the king and queen bees, braving the lair of the tyrannosaurus, grappling with the great yeti, bringing down the nefarious birdman empire (really), all of this leads to a final confrontation at the gates of Eden with Bolbox. Who is Bolbox?
A giant, slimy amoeba with an appendage that looks a great deal like an extendable penis. Huh. Bolbox is the controlling focal point of the antagonistic organisms you’re matching wits with by the end of the game, fat as (he, she, it?) has grown on those pesky aforementioned crystals. Flush with their erratic and unpredictable power, Bolbox’s single-cell style body spits orbs out, through its penis-lookin’ thing, which produce varying effects, usually spawning enemies from heavily-armed eagles to giant cockroaches, though sometimes a perk comes out instead in the form of a health refill. It’s a tough boss battle, especially by the standards of difficulty the game has established (the challenge level waxes and wanes, but it’s a stiff effort for an average player), but your cunning little carnivore will win out eventually with skill and patience.
Thus, with a barely introduced final boss skillfully dispatched, the gates of paradise are open to you, and with it Gaia’s gift of intelligence. This implication renders even stranger the convoluted sort of new-age intelligent design that E.V.O.’s story offers. In Christian theology, the obvious origin point of the game’s so-called Eden, Adam and Eve are cast out for sampling the fruits of knowledge, whilst in Gaia’s world, knowledge is itself the reward for arriving.
It was a very near thing as a kid whether I would’ve ended up playing this. If memory serves me, this was one of the titles I first rented from the Wherehouse in Corte Madera, which meant there were countless other titles on offer to draw my attention away. I count myself immensely lucky to have ended up with E.V.O. in my hands instead. It’s a truly deft blend of platforming and RPG aspects, with an arc through time, if not much plot, that is sufficent to feel awe-inspiring. Plus, somebody has to make those birdmen pay.