With the end of the PS2′s reign rapidly approaching, it’s time for the horde of budget titles to come out of hiding.  Granted, budget titles are nothing new to the PS2 (or other consoles, to be honest), and in fact Japan has had the Simple 2000 series since soon after the PS2′s launch there.  Here, though, the deluge of budget titles generally has denoted the end of an era, as well as a loosening of quality controls. 


In this vein comes D3 Publisher’s The Adventures of Darwin, where you take on the role of an ape named Darwin, who has a dream of the end of the world, and essentially must ‘evolve or die’, which can also be said for the game industry itself.  So, will this game evolve and become a solid budget title, or will it die along with what seems like the PS2 itself?

Given that Adventures of Darwin is a budget title, one doesn’t expect top-quality graphics, which is a good thing, as you won’t find it here.  While the overall look isn’t bad, and visually (and in other ways) obviously tries to emulate Pikmin, the graphics quality itself is fitting in with the budget theme, and looks similar to a first-generation PS2 title, if not a late-generation Playstation or Nintendo 64 one. 


While there’s not much lag, that’s because there’s not a lot of detail to cause the PS2 to really work at it.  When you mistake building materials for enemies, you know that things aren’t on the right track.  That is, of course, unless the game snuck in an unannounced rock-emulating monster. 


Cut scenes are laughable, and barely qualify as such, as they consist of pictures on a background with text windows.  The village consists of a background with menu screens which only changes when you are given new buildings (which are selectable via the aforementioned menu).

Admittedly, the music in Adventures of Darwin matches the theme of the game, with a very heavy drum beat as if the developers had watched a few too many ‘prehistoric’ cartoons and movies for their inspiration.  Granted, the music isn’t bad, per se, it’s just that it’s very shameless in its looping, down to the slight pause as the music ends, then restarts.


The sound effects themselves continue in this vein, down to the fact that numerous of the enemies sound exactly the same when dying.  About the only thing that I can think of that would make it more budget and generic is if they had had a guy go ‘ugh’ into a microphone for the death sounds, with as little inflection and tone as possible.  Also, there are no voices, as the ‘cut scenes’ in the game consist of static pictures and backgrounds with text windows.  In fact, not only is it text windows, it’s text windows with very little (and usually inane) actual text, sometimes no more than a sentence, if that.

The controls in Adventures of Darwin are very basic.  This is a good thing, as you really don’t end up using much more than the analog sticks and the X button.  As with many games, the left analog stick controls your character (in this case, Darwin), and the right analog stick controls the camera.  The X button attacks and gives orders while the circle button cancels orders.  The triangle button brings up your status menu while the shoulder buttons sidestep (with L1 and R1) and change formations (L2 and R2). 


The problem here is that most of the game involves many presses of the X button, as if you were playing Dynasty Warriors instead of something that’s supposed to involve more strategy.  Changing formations seems to have little real effect on the actual outcome of the game.  The camera is wonky and slow enough to cause you to have to adjust it periodically, which can be murder in some of the tighter sections of the game, especially later on.

The story of Adventures of Darwin is a very simple one, that is rarely referenced after the game’s opening.  You are Darwin, a young ape who lives in a village.  One night, you have a dream that a meteor is coming to destroy your village and end ape-dom as you know it.  You know then that you must evolve your village to protect it.  Luckily for you, four of your friends decide to join you in your quest.


It’s obvious early on that the designers of the game took a look at Pikmin and decided that they could adapt that gameplay for their own ends.  As Darwin, you explore the world to gather food and building materials to help your village evolve in order to stop a meteor that will ruin everyone’s fun.  Now, I don’t know if the plan is to create a nuclear-powered catapult or what, because the game never really says how the meteor is going to be deflected, but it really doesn’t matter as much of the game boils down to going out into the gameworld and gather until you have to run back to town and drop everything off.


This mechanic is repeated ad nauseam and is almost as bad as grinding faction in a MMO.  Especially when you consider that as you explore further out into each of the levels, you’ll have to go back and forth, back and forth, and more back and forth to gather what you need to level up your village.  While you’re doing all of this, you’ll pick up yellow stars to add to your maximum number of followers, and red stars to to resurrect one of your fallen followers (who are visible in the graveyard in your village, complete with seperate grave markers for each man who has died along the way). 


Items in the game are classified by weight, with the number showing how many followers it takes to lift it.  So if something is marked ’20′, then it requires 20 followers to lift it.  If you only have 19….you’re hosed.  This can make the game rather frustrating, especially if it’s the last thing in the level, and you’re missing a yellow star or two along the way.

Let’s be honest.  If this game was $40 or $50, I’d never suggest anyone buy it.  At $20…it’s iffy.  The game lasts about ten or fifteen hours, which is solid for the price, but the game really isn’t a whole lot of fun for most people.  Granted, with a rating of E10+, it may be aimed at the younger set, and might be a good pick up for Christmas for a young child.


Outside of that, however, the game is really only suitable for strategy fans who can’t get enough of that on the PS2 to this point.  Still, it might be better to rent this one first and see if it’s worth it, or possibly wait on it to hit the clearance bins.

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