Take a trip through a short story of adventure video games evolution with Evoland by Shiro Games. Evoland is not so much a riff on the nostalgia kick as much as it is an homage to the origin of the adventure game genre. It playfully pokes fun at tropes from mainstream series’ such as Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy. As the game progresses, newer and newer elements are added that mirror the same elements added to classic adventure games as they were given sequels and remakes. While a short game, Evoland has a lot of charm and seeing a chest on the path doesn’t lead to wondering what spoils are inside, but rather what new mechanics will be unlocked. While this concept seems fantastic, its execution may be the fatal flaw of Evoland.
This article is presented here as a part of Throwback Thursday, where we revisit some highlights from the archives of both Sabrael D. Carroll and M.E. Garey. This particular piece comes to you from May 2016.
This review is part of a series of reviews compiled as The Backlog Report. In an effort to beat all the games I own while also flexing my writing muscles, I am giving an in-depth review of my experience with these games. Scores range from 1 (terrible) to 5 (outstanding) with 3 being a passing average. While I aim to keep these reviews spoiler free but some details may be present to prove my points so read at your own risk.
The game drops you into the middle of the woods and you go about your business. Taking control of 2D movement and arming yourself, a chest proudly announces that you have unlocked the plot of the game! This plot is developed as you proceed through the game and is as stereotypical as can be, housing many a classic trope. You are an unnamed Hero (default Clink) who is joined by a girl on a mission named Kaeris. Her village has been besieged by a dark power, and she is hunting it down. Cue a big bad guy behind it named Zephyros (*wink wink nudge nudge*) who isn’t human. His race was wiped out, and now he wants revenge, going so far as to pollute a sacred place of nature to do so. That is it. Throw in a classic twist that Clink has secret hidden powers and you have the basic frame for most of the classics. However, this doesn’t add anything new, leaving it sort of the middle of the road.
Starting in 2-color Gameboy style graphics, and increasing in depth and complexity as you evolve your game, the graphics are a fantastic tool used by the quirky progression of the game. It even goes so far as to use this mechanic in a puzzle solving segment where flat blocks on the ground in 3D become impassable barriers while in 2D, and the reverse for seemingly innocuous bushes. The final graphical results are similar to a modern game focusing on a cuter art style. Very well done. In addition, revisiting older areas brings back the pixels. I don’t care if this was game dev laziness and not wanting to redesign all areas for the final art style, but I think it is quaint.
The soundtrack for Evoland is not a very large selection, but it has some great gems. A lot of generic songs led by hard driven guitar, I don’t think any song was ever out of place. Sadly the small repertoire means you do have some issues with repetitiveness. After a while, I stopped enjoying the Overworld theme. However, there are three songs I have to give kudos to: the Airship, the Fields, and the Ruin’s Boss Battle. The Airship reminds me of “Searching for Friends” from FF6, a sort of uplifting and determined song. The Fields comes in a retro chiptune version and a more updated version. I feel like the chiptune sounds the best and I am sad that we don’t ever get any more of it after the beginning of the game. Lastly, the Ruin’s Boss Battle fits in nicely with the area’s Diablo style mechanics.
Evoland has some of THE most annoying controls I have ever had to deal with. You can use either WASD or Arrow Keys for movement, and either Space or Enter for Action/Attacking. However, the Inventory can only be opened with Tab, or by clicking the backpack in the top right corner of the screen. The keys are so spread out, it takes some time to pull up the inventory and swap weapons. This isn’t helped by the fact that while in the inventory, the gameplay does not stop, so while swapping weapons you can be assaulted by skeletons and mages. I would have preferred using CTRL or ALT instead of Tab, or even using arrow key and a classic Z and X, or A and S setup.
Evoland is not a particularly difficult game. Even the puzzles are pretty straight forward to solve. The battles aren’t too difficult, and the only one who seems like a threat is scripted. This makes lesser enemies not a big deal at all, which when combined with a very high encounter rate leads to very tedious travel. Even getting off the airship right beside a village usually entails a battle or two before you get there. The only real threat comes in the adventure zones which play like Legend of Zelda. Since your armor upgrades mean little, it makes enemies a constant threat, unlike the RPG zones.
I am also annoyed with how Clink has a Special command that he can never use, except for after a big plot point, after which point it is NEVER again used if you proceed with the story. If you go back and participate in the RPG battles, you can use it (after an absurdly long real-time cool down), BUT if you go too far back, it is inaccessible.
Evoland features two forms of collectibles: Stars and Cards. Stars are simply hidden in chests, and of the 30 in the game, I would say only 10 are actually out of the way, with 5 or so of those being hidden through secret walls that are not marked in any way, making them feel cheap. These Stars do nothing except give you achievements at certain amounts. The Cards are based on various characters and monsters and are used in a Triple Triad-like mini game. While the cards are well hidden (most involve backtracking as new items are unlocked), the mini game is severely lacking. You can’t pick what cards you pull so the more you have, the harder it actually becomes to beat the one opponent you have in order to claim the achievement for it.
Sadly beyond these two, there is no reason to replay the game. The handful of achievements are easily gotten in a single playthrough, and quite easily too. There are only really two achievements that can prove meddlesome, one for grinding money, which leads to tedious wandering, and the other for defeating an early boss with a full health bar.