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The Adventures of Darwin

Platform(s): PlayStation 2
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: D3 Publisher


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PS2 Review - 'The Adventures of Darwin'

by Seth Weisend on Sept. 27, 2007 @ 12:13 a.m. PDT

You are the leader of a primitive village. If you want to survive life in a hostile world, you must evolve! In The Adventures of Darwin, you will drive the evolution of your village from a small group of simple primates to a powerful, intelligent colony of humans. Lead your tribe on adventures, teach them to hunt, teach them to build, and teach them the power of language. Are you the leader of the evolution, or doomed to a life of monkey business?

Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Publisher: D3 Publisher
Developer: D3 Publisher
Release Date: June 25, 2007

Charles Darwin changed the world's perception of human history with his theory of evolution in the mid-1800s. Western establishment was shocked by his theory, which claimed that humanity came from apes, rather than by the grace of God. Religious beliefs were challenged, and Darwin was greeted with derision and mockery. Despite this, his evolution theory has grown in perceived validity over the years. Evolution is now widely accepted as fact by scientists, and textbooks all over the world teach it as truth.

Like most dead biologists, Darwin has had little impact on the world of video games. The Adventures of Darwin for the PS2 finally gives Charles his due, although it focuses on evolution rather than the man himself. You'll take control of an ape who happens to be named Darwin and lives a comfortable life in a peaceful village populated by other apes. One day, however, Darwin dreams of a meteor colliding with the planet, resulting in the destruction of all apekind. Darwin and four comrades decide they must go out into the world and learn the keys of evolution in order to prevent an apocalyptic fate.

That incoherent little summary is about the only thing resembling a plot in The Adventures of Darwin. Weaving a grand tale obviously is not the game's intent, and there's nothing wrong with that. I'd rather have no real attempt at a story rather than sift through acres of awful, pointless text. However, it would be nice to know what exactly the protagonist is trying to accomplish at any given time, so as to give the player a feeling of drive and purpose. Otherwise, the game just comes off as being low-budget.

Of course, that's appropriate, as it's obvious to anyone right from the beginning that The Adventures of Darwin is a low-budget game. The cut scenes (if one can call them that) are simple pictures with text on top of them. Likewise, you can't actually explore Darwin's village but must select buildings and houses from a menu instead. The primitive environments outside of the village, where you'll spend most of your time, are somewhat more impressive, but I'd wager that a high-quality N64 title could nearly replicate them.

Rapid jungle beats set the tone to Darwin's excursions, and the intense drumming fits the primeval time period well. The developers' limited resources come back to haunt them again, though, as the only five or six tracks quickly wear out their welcome. Similarly, voice acting is too fancy for The Adventures of Darwin; he and his primate friends communicate through text boxes only, and what odd things they have to say! Villagers have all the depth and elaboration of a typical NES-era Zelda NPC, for they spout crude, strange messages, almost never over a sentence long.

It may seem as if I'm bashing the game thus far, but I'm actually not. I suspect that the developers and publishers knew from the beginning that this would be a budget title, and the $20 price tag reflects that. Many of the technical limitations can thus be forgiven to a degree, and The Adventures of Darwin certainly isn't without its strengths.

As Darwin explores the wild in search of the vital evolutionary tools, he will need to accomplish a few secondary objectives as well. Materials must be gathered and brought back to Darwin's village so the village can do its own evolving. This is gauged by a peculiar points meter. Each item or material Darwin retrieves is worth a certain amount of points, and once the meter fills, the village "levels up." Leveling systems are usually kept to the realm of RPGs (and certainly aren't used for towns!), but it works well. The sense of expansion is palpable as more and more houses are built and the town's population grows.

A small part of that population consists of warriors willing to aid Darwin in his expeditions. These loyal combatants follow his every move and help with everything from carrying giant mushrooms to murdering harmless bunnies. Sadly, the little guys die rather easily, and the game just exacerbates this by building a giant graveyard full of individual tombs. You know, just to make sure you realize it's your fault they died.

With death always a looming possibility, it's a good thing Darwin can expand his maximum ranks by finding rare yellow stars. A few of these celestial bodies are hidden within each main area, and their importance is indicated by the fact that they are typically guarded or hidden well. While Darwin and crew begin their adventure as a tiny band of fighters, by journey's end they make up a small army. Much like the expanding village, the growth of Darwin's army on such a vast scale gives the player a real sense of accomplishment for a job well done.

None of Darwin's objectives are pressured by time limits, and he's mostly free to wander whenever, wherever, and however you want him to. This is a double-edged sword, as more laid-back gamers will find the leisurely pace enjoyable, while others are sure to find it deathly boring. I found it to be a bit of both. Thus, The Adventures of Darwin should probably be played in brief sessions for maximum enjoyment, as the slow tempo may wear thin during marathons.

With the extreme non-linearity comes extreme simplicity. Darwin will naturally come across a wide spectrum of the animal kingdom as he explores, and while some of the creatures are docile, most would like nothing more than a primate meal. Pressing the X button makes Darwin attack, and his band of followers soon mimic him. Along with avoiding enemy attacks, that pretty much makes up the entire combat system. While some weapons have slightly different ranges, you're still just mashing the X button. Hardcore gamers looking for deep battle mechanics would probably be disappointed, but I doubt they have this game in their sights, anyway. The elementary combat fits in fine within the framework of the game, but again, it becomes a tad tiresome after lots of playtime.

In keeping with the title's inspiration, Darwin and his tribe will indeed evolve after finding those evolutionary items at the end of each stage. They go from being monkeys all the way up the primate ladder to full-fledged humans. Evolution brings with it the use of tools and weapons, although apparently not much else. Anti-evolution religious zealots need not get their panties in a bunch because I can't imagine anyone but the most extreme being offended by the cutesy, unassuming presentation of evolution on display here.

Although the addictive nature of Darwin's quest may overcome technical shortcomings, not all of the game's faults can be pardoned so easily. Gathering materials, bringing them back to the village, making another long trek to the exact same place to gather more materials, etc., over and over again becomes tedious quickly. Unacceptable game design flaws further mar the experience. As a particularly troublesome example, sometimes one or more of Darwin's men become caught in corners or trapped behind objects. This happens way more often than it should, and the game only makes matters worse by killing off the ill-fated soldiers if they've been separated from Darwin too long. It's difficult to notice a few missing warriors when you have a whole army behind you, and the game punishing the player for its own mistakes is absurd.

The Adventures of Darwin shares many similarities to another obscure (when it was released) budget title, Katamari Damacy, but Darwin lacks the quirky charm and hyper fun of that game, and so will likely be forever relegated to the bargain bin. It's a shame, really, because though Darwin has a myriad of problems, none of them are damning enough to erase the addictive nature of evolution. You could certainly do worse things with those 20 bucks.

Score: 7.0/10

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