‘Evoland’ Review — A Nostalgic Trip Down Action-Adventure Lane
I began playing RPGs and action-adventure games early in the 2000′s. I believe the first title I picked up was Final Fantasy X. To most of you, at least our older readers, that likely seems to be a late time to enter the game. I immediately fell in love, likely due to my misunderstanding of graphics and CGI and my wonder at how immense the development a title could be. Then came Morrowind, Oblivion, and a slew of other RPG titles that sparked my interest. Inevitably, I would venture back and experience the heavy hitters of the RPG world: the Zelda series, early Final Fantasy games, and Chrono Trigger. I never looked back and have continued touting the RPG genre ever since.
What exists as a full version of a former ‘Ludum Dare’ winner, Evoland from Shiro Games is a bottled serving of the quirks and nuances of these classics and as a love letter to RPG and Action-Adventure games and gamers alike. It could be considered to be 200 proof nostalgia, if you will. Evoland, which released a couple of weeks ago on Steam and Shiro Games Official Website, contains references and homage galore, all presented as a short and quirky RPG about a character named Clink who sets out to save the world in which he lives.
Evoland is an attempt to show the evolution of the genre. As the player finds more chests, more game elements are implemented. Players grow up and travel becomes more manageable. Black and white 2-D areas of the game become colorful textured 3-D environments. Much of these improvements represent changes in the technology. The starting point conjures memories of classic Pokemon games for the Gameboy, whereas the eventual ending moments are much more representative of Nintendo 64 titles like Mario 64 and Zelda. The graphical improvements happen throughout the first couple hours of the game and each one is well done and represents a different period of action adventure gaming accurately.
That is about the extent of the plot. Clink meets some characters along the way and has to battle a few bosses, but none of it ever feels as though it is the development of something greater. This is likely on purpose, as many classic RPG’s were not built around a sound story structure. However, the whole story felt as though it was a missed opportunity. A game so rich in reference could have done with more referential NPCs and encounters. Most of the NPCs are nameless and insignificant, whereas they also could have been used as a tool for reference.
Likewise, not much of the gameplay is striking or new, but rather borrows from the classic RPG systems. Turn-based combat is present in different iterations of the Final Fantasy series. Hack-and-slash moments come courtesy of Diablo and Zelda. Evoland does well in emanating these combat systems, although they are simplified versions. That being said, combat does feel well-worn quickly. The initial enjoyment of the homage wears off quickly, as the combat systems are not well-developed and evolved because they were flawed. Maybe shorter bursts of these combat systems would have felt more refreshing. As are, the combat systems are not enjoyable and after the 50th random encounter, the two abilities of the protagonist duo are quite boring.
Plenty of the goodness of Evoland comes from the well-crafted graphics and score. Both elements are well-implemented. The soundtrack progresses much as the graphics do. 8-bit soundtracks make way to scores of violins and guitars. The music also switches when the critical mechanics of switching between different graphical worlds occurs, which is a welcome addition. These moments also represent the most creative element of Evoland.
Many of the puzzles in Evoland are built around a graphical-shifting component that allows the player to switch between 2-D and 3-D worlds. This mechanic is operated through diamond-shaped mechanisms that are hit to activate the graphical change. The puzzles are by no means difficult to any gamer who has encountered any puzzle game. They are simple and most are easily solved through common logic. Once again it would seem that an opportunity for a fantastic element was missed. The idea was great, but it appears as though the developers only developed the idea well enough to implement, but not in an innovative manner.
This is what ends up being most striking about Evoland. There are so many solid opportunities for the developers to craft something reverential to the oldies, while making those same elements enjoyable on their own. But that ends up being the issue with Evoland: no element stands on its own as enjoyable or memorable. The combat looks like the games it is based on, but misses so many elements of what made combat in those games great. Evoland was an opportunity to open the genre to new eyes, but ends up not being enjoyable enough on its own to be worth playing for most people new to the genre. Evoland is great in its homage, but a poor effort standing alone and a game that struggles to remain fun throughout.
Review summary Pros:
Recognizable and thought out tributes to the classics. Fun generational-switching mechanics. Incredible soundtrack.
Runs out of steam midway through. Almost no replay value. Combat loses its charm quickly. No plot line. Not worth playing if you have not been playing the genre for the last 15 years.