Developer: Vingt-et-un-Systems Corporation
N Amer - 06/26/2007
The Adventures of Darwin Review
Most people don’t realize how much innovation has come out of RTS games. Aside from innovation within its own genre, real-time strategy has influenced the course of RPGs, action games, and first-person shooters. But considering the genre’s roots and where its primary audience lies (PC gaming), the PlayStation brand is usually the last to get a new and/or exclusive RTS.
The Adventures of Darwin is the first strategy game in three or four years to skip the PC altogether and go straight for PS2. It was good news from the start: without the PC involved, controls and gameplay mechanics would be designed – from the ground up – for the Dual-Shock 2. Darwin looks like an adventure game, and that never hurts with the mainstream crowd. It also packs a bit of evolution. Instead of improving your army with new units, the warriors in this game evolve every time a new tool is acquired. Starting as a monkey and ending with a hairy (and not at all modernized) human, Darwin’s soldiers are eager to grow – they just don’t know it yet.
At this point gamers are unaware of the game’s connection to another console-exclusive RTS: Pikmin. The screenshots, with legions of warriors following behind the leader, do hint at this fact. But it’s not until you pick up the controller that you begin to see where Darwin’s inspiration came from.
The controls are fairly similar to the GameCube hit, but you won’t throw monkeys to attack or fire up a tractor beam to call units back to the pack. Units travel well on their own, so long as they are not attacked by a prehistoric beast. Plants and other obstacles may block your path, but your team will generally find a way around the situation. The only time they can’t is when different level heights get in the way. If you’re standing close to a ledge and some units fall off, they won’t be able to climb back up on their own. They’ll stay close to where you are and run up to the wall until you leave, and then become vulnerable without you there to guide them through a battle.
Units, whether in early monkey form or a fully evolved human, don’t need your direction – they’ll attack automatically as soon as you approach an enemy and tap the X button. But when separated from the pack, they’re more likely to be defeated. When under your control, they’ll follow behind wherever you go, making it possible to avoid most assaults. That’s something they cannot do without your help.
New units are obtained by finding the yellow stars that are hidden in each world. This is an interesting alternative to the buy-or-breed element of most strategy games, primarily because it dictates level progress. Most areas are blocked off by walls, boulders, and other obstacles that need to be destroyed by a specific number of warriors. No question, Darwin used Pikmin for the majority of its material. But the way the wall destruction and level expansion elements work in Darwin have more in common with an action/adventure than a strategy game.
Players will leave each level before every secret has been uncovered. It’s unavoidable – if you have 24 units and the only remaining wall needs 25 units to tear it down, pack up and leave. Level exits are dispersed in a variety of places, some more convenient and appropriate than others. Before you go, take a second look at the flowers and mushrooms growing in certain parts of the world. Those items, along with meat and bones dropped by slaughtered enemies, can be taken home and exchanged for whatever type of currency is being used (it varies).
Money is good for purchasing items that’ll help you survive on the battlefield, but that’s not the only reason to collect them. You should do it for the level growth, which increases your hometown’s population. More inhabitants mean more cavemen to enlist when your current army has been killed. As it turns out, the levels are more hazardous than the prehistoric beasts that lurk around every corner. Geysers, believe it or not, are more dangerous than fire. Both must be avoided and/or taken out whenever possible. Most fire-emitting rock formations can be destroyed, but I’ve yet to discover a way to eliminate a geyser.
If The Adventures of Darwin were built of these elements alone, it would be graded as a respectable clone of the Pikmin franchise. But there is a very dark side to the game, and it starts with the world designs. They are more troublesome than interesting. Narrow platforms – a common feature of the third world – do not make much sense when you can’t freely and easily take your entire army across them. If you try, at least one comrade will fall into the water and, if he is not quickly saved, will be eaten by a sea creature. The downside to saving him is that you will likely throw others into the water in the process. This is one of many times in the game when you will want to pull your hair out.
Some of the puzzles are slightly clever, if not a little interesting. One has you pushing walls to ricochet a rolling boulder. The goal is to knock the boulder around until it slams into another boulder that’s blocking your way.
Other objectives, like the search for yellow stars, lose their excitement much too quickly. Battles grow tiresome after you realize that most enemies flat-line in the presence of greater numbers. They’re not smart, tactful, or capable of putting up a defense – so long as you bring as many warriors as you can muster. The game is paced so that you’re rarely biting off more than you can chew, which is a little ironic. On one hand it forces you to leave levels prematurely by blocking off areas. It could’ve reinforced that point with a couple of enemies that were too powerful to defeat the first time they were encountered.
Before I get to my closing arguments, let me point out one additional flaw that should’ve been kicked before this game ever shipped. In one of the later stages – I can’t remember which at the moment – there is a flying creature that spits a paralyzing dust that causes your entire party to slow down. The idea must’ve looked good on paper: by slowing players’ actions, the game will become more difficult. In execution, it is not usually more difficult – just more frustrating. Darwin’s levels are fairly large, especially when you’re moving at the pace of one inch per second. There’s a lot of backtracking in this game, and you will have no desire to do so when a slo-mo creature is hovering nearby, just waiting to make your adventure as boring as possible.
Your leader can eat a special mushroom to remove the ailment, but there’s a catch – you have to find the mushroom first, and that means more sluggish exploration.
The Adventures of Darwin is a below-average game with some content that’s slightly above average. It’s hard to play a game like this, one that has so much promise – and initially, so much entertainment value – but fails to deliver a great gameplay experience all the way through. Pikmin fans will find some amusement in its cloned mechanics, but your enjoyment won’t last. Chances are your desire to play this game won’t either.
Review Scoring Details for The Adventures of Darwin
The Adventures of Darwin is entertaining for the first couple of levels. If you can bear to start a game and stop before the end, that would be your best course of action. I myself cannot do that – if I start a game that’s good, I’m going to see it through. But if it starts to become repetitive, cumbersome, or anything less than the initial experience, the push to continue is abruptly removed.
Horribly plain and grainy. We didn’t see graphics this unattractive at the consoles launch in October of 2000.
With warriors who make annoying cheer sounds a soundtrack that’s as lackluster as they come, The Adventures of Darwin is low on the PS2 food chain.
Pikmin cloned, but not improved upon.
In some respects, The Adventures of Darwin effectively mirrors Pikmin’s unique style. But it comes up short as a PS2 strategy game.
In some respects, The Adventures of Darwin effectively mirrors Pikmin’s unique style. But it comes up short as a PS2 strategy game
Reviewer: Louis Bedigian
Review Date: 07/09/2007