Friday, 6 April 2012

200th Review!

Space Station Silicon Valley a.k.a. Evo's Space Adventures (1998)
By: DMA Design / Take-Two Interactive Genre: Arcade Adventure Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Nintendo 64 First Day Score: Ongoing...
Also Available For: PlayStation, Game Boy Color

No, your eyes do not deceive you! Not only has it now been almost exactly two years since I started publishing my inane and nonsensical ramblings here at Red Parsley, but this anniversary also happens to coincide with my 200th full game review as well - hooray! During this time I've covered some of my old favourites, finally played titles I've been meaning to try for years, and even discovered some games I'd never previously heard of. It seems like it's been even longer than a mere two years actually, but in order to sufficiently recognise such a special occasion, I need a special review, or more accurately, a review of a special game. The title I've selected is one which arrived in the N64's prime and proved to be one of the few decent games that wasn't by Rare or Nintendo themselves. It was well-received critically and yet almost no one bought it which is both strange and a great shame. It also means it's a game of which I sometimes think I'm the only fan, so allow me to enlighten you...

Viewing the second zone of Euro Eden from a hillside...
It's a game set aboard the space station of the title which is apparently the largest, most expensive space station ever created. It was intended as an experiment in artificial life and robotic evolution and broke new ground in terms of size and luxury, as well as extreme danger. The only problem is, seven minutes after its launch it completely disappeared! However, after one thousand years it has returned to our part of space. It wasn't long before a squad of Space Marines were sent to investigate, but contact with them was lost. So another squad was sent, and another, but each of them vanished without trace, so a decision was made to send someone a bit more expendable and a lot cheaper. Enter Dan Danger and EVO, the bravest heroes that Earth has to offer (and at knockdown prices too). Dan is human (just about), but EVO is the end result of the Silicon Valley experiments, a super-intelligent, self-evolving robot. However, while en route to the station, an argument between the two (over which radio station to listen to) results in them crashing into the station!

A penguin surveys the first Arctic Kingdom zone...
The impact with the station has left Dan incapacitated so the mission to find out what happened to Silicon Valley is left to EVO. He was also damaged, however, with only his CPU surviving intact. This semi-mobile chip quickly merged with Roger, a nearby robotic dog on the station and it's as this metallic canine that you'll begin the game. The interior of the station is divided into four distinct environments: Euro Eden, Arctic Kingdom, Jungle Safari and Desert Adventure. Each of these is split into numerous zones which are encased in large domes filled with the kind of things you might expect to find in that environment on earth, as well as many unusual things that you might not. When you enter each one you'll be briefed by Dan who will give you your mission objectives. There's usually more than one objective per zone and they can vary enormously - some may seem quite logical while others may seem insanely unnecessary, but all must be completed before you're able to explore the Station Control Room and return (semi) normality to the situation.

Not just a mouse but a racing mouse!
The game is played from a third-person perspective with each stage viewed and navigated in 3D. The N64's analogue stick allows precise movement around the various zones and the green and blue buttons cause our robotic dog to jump and bite respectively. However, by far my favourite thing about this game is the ability to control any of the other robotic animals that you encounter. There are many different ones through the game, each unique to the environment in which they're found, and they behave just like their real-life counterparts in most ways - some are friendly, some are aggressive, some attack you, some run away - but they all have unique talents and abilities, some of which must be mastered to complete the various missions. For example, the first animal you'll encounter in the game, other than the dog you start with, is a sheep. These cloud-like creatures are able to perform a floaty jump which is needed to cross a bridge with a broken section. The next animal you'll come across is a racing mouse who can speed over ramps, and so on.

A tortoise-tank is attacked by two elephants...
Occasionally you'll encounter an inactive animal which you can jump straight into, but most animals are active which means you'll need to power them down before they're available to use. They'll usually have some form of attack and it's by using this that one animal is able to wear down the energy gauge of another. Almost all creatures must be approached with caution though - even friendly ones will defend themselves if you attack them and if your own energy gauge is depleted, you'll have to start the zone again. Succeed, however, and the new animal is available to use as much or as little as you want for the rest of the zone. Upon taking over an animal for the first time, you'll see a screen featuring general information and data on its abilities which include: type, environment, water resistance, mass, armour, strength, traction, fall distance, production, engine, intelligence, and details of its two unique abilities.

A ski-husky before a thin icy bridge - worth the risk?
Some examples of the crazy animals you'll encounter include teleporting foxes, rats who drop turd-mines, bomb-dropping heli-rabbits, missile-firing walruses, coal-powered hippos, pink laughing hyenas, spitting camels, electric scoprpions, and many more! Some of these chortlesome creatures are just there to cause you problems and some are just there doing their thing - remember, this station has been lost for a thousand years and all the animals have evolved to survive in this strange, isolated environment - but most of them are needed to achieve the mission objectives. These usually either involve finding particular items, which are invariably tucked away somewhere that only one animal can reach, or solving simple puzzles, like working out how to keep all four touch-sensitive switches on to activate a machine, for example. Whether you're activating (or deactivating) computers or growing carrots though, each stage needs to be explored thoroughly.

A fez-wearing camel trots up a sandy slope...
Although they do vary a bit, each zone is generally square-shaped. They're pretty big too, and often divided into sections that are progressively accessed with the help of our robotic friends, and each has unique terrain. They're usually multi-tiered with lots of hills, slopes, walkways, lakes, and a few man-made features like bridges, lifts, and the odd machine of a usually-peculiar type. Entry to and exit from each zone is via separate teleporters which are activated at the appropriate times. Between these times you'll encounter several items: energy (which is usually found in crates and restores about half of your reserves), fifteen power cells (which are sprinkled around the landscape, often hidden away in the corners, behind trees, etc, and should be collected to repair EVO's body), and a souvenir (which is hidden and only appears when you fulfil the right conditions which you have to work out for yourself). Some zones also feature terminals (to view information about your current animal host) and a camera (which gives you an aerial tour of the zone).

A bear defeats a missile-equipped racing dog...
Although enclosed, each zone can be explored however you want. There's no time limit and your energy is only depleted if you encounter an angry animal (or fall too far, or fall into water, but these only affect certain animals) so you're free to spend as much time as you want trying to go everywhere and do everything. This largely non-linear, non-restrictive approach is just how I like to play games like this and it also means that there's a lot of game to see. There are thirty-one zones altogether (ten Euro Eden, seven Ice Kingdom, six Jungle Safari, seven Desert Adventure, and the final Control Room zone) as well as the odd bonus round, and over forty different animals to find, disable, and learn to use. Even once you've done that, there's plenty of secrets to find, not least the well-concealed souvenirs, and there's plenty of opportunities for hunting them down as you have infinite lives!

A racing mouse faces a slight problem...
There are four save game slots and if your animal dies, or if you spend too much time outside of one, you'll merely return to the stage select screen. You can also return there manually if you mess up a zone too so the difficulty level is pitched just right to ensure that everything is achievable, but it won't come too easy! The desire to explore the many zones is strong too, and there are several reasons for that. The most immediately obvious one is perhaps the visuals which are mighty fine throughout. The zones themselves look great - the environment themes may be a little clichéd but they lend themselves well to the premise of the game and the mixture of nature and technology in each of them has been well balanced too. The draw-distance is pretty good - the landscape and fixed objects can be seen from right across an entire zone with only the smaller objects such as the power-cells and animals needing to be added as you get closer, and even they can be seen from a decent distance.

A hyena is faced with a tricky river crossing...
Some of the textures are a little blurry, as is typical of N64 games of course, and some objects are a little basic, but that's just the style of the game rather than any inadequacies on the part of the designers. Besides, it's easy enough to tell what everything is and that includes the animals who are the highlight of the game for me. Some of them look fairly normal, in a cartoony kind of way, while others are plain crazy, but they all look distinctive, funny, and full of character. Sure, they're quite basic, both in design and animation as well, but this just usually adds to the amusement factor - even after all this time playing the game, I still can't help but laugh when a fox rushes towards me before turning around and swooshing his tail at me, and watching the tiny little penguins waddle around or furiously paddling away in the water always raises a smile as well. Control of each animal varies depending on its abilities - not all can jump, for example - but the zones are generally designed to maximise use of each one.

A polar bear and a penguin before a giant piano...
The graphics may be superb but special mention must also go to the audio. At their best, good music and sound effects can make a really big difference to a game and that`s the case here. The unusual and very distinctive soundtrack by Stuart Ross suits the madcap action perfectly. Not every zone has its own tune but there are more than twenty different tracks through the game and, while all similar in style, they're happy, funny, and memorable pieces. The sound effects are also outstanding and are a good example of the kind of love and care that has gone into this game. Whether it`s elephants trumpeting or the wheels of the racing mouse squeaking comically as he trundles along, they add a lot to the already pretty extensive humour element of the game. There are a few problems - the camera is often annoying (although you can adjust it manually with the yellow 'C' buttons), there's a few minor graphical glitches here and there, and it's not actually possible to obtain 100% of the items (one of the souvenirs can't be reached - oops!) but there's definitely nothing that'll cause a major annoyance here, at least not for me.

A gorilla swings high above a dangerous swamp...
I played this game to death when it first came out, and for a good few years more, and I've played it extensively again to get screenshots for this review (it doesn't emulate perfectly, by the way - there are quite a few graphical glitches), and I just don't seem to ever get tired of it. As you've probably worked out by now, it's certainly a very original game which could be one reason. It also has a lot of humour, but even the basic design is fantastic as well. Every one of the zones is distinctive and memorable, from its name, features, and missions, to the superb design of each and every one. Nothing beats starting a new zone, trying to get your bearings, beginning to explore, seeing objects or features that are out of reach, but being content in the knowledge that sooner or later you'll have found a way to get to them.

A vulture scouts a newly-discovered area...
The attention to detail is wonderful too and is yet another thing that really makes a difference - the music comes from actual loud-speakers in each zone and gets louder or quieter depending on your distance from them, for example. You can even destroy them! There are different sound effects for walking on different surfaces too, and you can knock leaves from trees, your animals have steamy breath on Arctic stages (even though they're robotic!), the plants pop underground when you get close to them - all these kinds of things add to the immense enjoyment of playing this strange but hugely enjoyable and atmospheric game. Space Station Silicon Valley is exactly the kind of game I love and it's the sort that DMA Design used to specialise in before they got all 'cool', changed their name, and started making endless crime simulators. The first minute I started playing it I knew it was quite unlike any game I'd ever played before. I find it sad to think that it's probably quite unlike any game I'll ever see again as well.

RKS Score: 9/10

Special Note: If I've managed to convince you to give this ultra-splendid game a try, it can be played via emulation thanks to those jolly spiffing chaps at Project 64 but, as mentioned, there's quite a few glitches - the intro and cut-scenes are corrupt, and in-game there are a few 'invisible' things too, notably the Power Cells you have to collect. As you may have noticed at the top of the page, there are also PlayStation and Game Boy Color versions available too (renamed as Evo's Space Adventures). I can't comment on the latter as I haven't played it (yet) but the PS1 version is not nearly as good - the graphics and sound have lost much of their appeal for one thing. Based on all of this, I recommend nothing other than playing this fantastic game as it was meant to be played - on a Nintendo 64! Oh, and for those wondering - SSSV missed out on a 10/10 only because of its dodgy camera...


  1. An extensive 200th review! If i had to sum up this game with one word: "quirky". Upon playing this many moons ago, I was impatient and will definitely be revisiting again, and not via emulation :)

  2. I thought it was less than a year ago when you gave it a try? I know you didn't like it much but I hope you give it a second chance, I love it as you know! :) And you're right, it certainly is quirky - a word that sums up many things I like as you know :P

  3. Congratz on the 200th!
    The game seems interesting, I guess I would've enjoyed it back then.

  4. This is a game I've been meaning to play for a long time. I wanted to wait until I had a real copy and that was before I learned of the emulation difficulties. So thanks to you, I will wait even longer to play this gem! Any idea how much this goes for on fleabay? Is it especially rare?

  5. Oh, and a huge congratulations on your two milestones! Here's to the next two years and two hundred posts!

  6. Thanks Edward! It's still a superb game, you should give it a try if you like the look of it :)

    And thanks Marc as well! I've owned the game since it was released so I'm afraid I've no idea if it goes for a lot on feeBay. Like most N64 games, I expect it holds its value fairly well if it's complete.

    It plays well enough on Project64, although it loses the precision of the N64 analogue pad (unless your PC pad has analogue which mine doesn't). The main problem with the missing textures is the invisible 'Power Cells' (you can find them if you search hard enough as their shadows are still visible. You should probably try it via emulation to see how much you like it. Then, if you come to love it even half as much as I do, buy the original then :)

    Thanks to both of you for your support, I hope I'm around for another 200 posts! :P