Evoland has a lot of heart for a simple love letter ‒ an ode Shiro Games are eager to share with the world. The gameplay serenades the RPG and action/adventure genres from the early '80s to the late '90s, taking players on a reverence-fueled ride from the debut of 8-bit graphics to the evolution of HD textures. Amid all the jest and respect shown for bygone eras, however, Evoland forgets to forge an identity.
Similar problems plagued Retro City Rampage last year, and Evoland begins equally strong. The unnamed hero ‒ denoted by a string of question marks ‒ finds himself alone in the woods alongside several unassuming chests. The treasures inside do not contain money or armor. Rather, every lock box yields a new gameplay mechanic. The first crates add directional movements; another houses your sword. The next chest spawns monsters, though save points, the soundtrack, and NPCs soon follow. While these irreversible upgrades resemble basic tutorials, they foster feelings of discovery and reward, too.
Not just action, not just adventure, but action/adventure!
The gameplay additions hit hard and fast, yet none of the mechanics ‒ using the arrow keys to move and spacebar to attack ‒ ever overwhelm. That said, the controls change with the situation. For example, players whack apart skeletons, bats, and mages Legend of Zelda-style while investigating the half-dozen dungeons. But when traversing the overworld, fights transition to Final Fantasy's turn-based format. Sadly, the simplicity obscures all discernible challenge, and the frequency of combat reduces the enjoyment worth gleaning. Battles occur with every other step as you march across the Evolandian countryside, so exploring becomes more annoying than attractive. Although players do acquire arrows and bombs, they are best saved for puzzle solving.
The combat alone quickly grows repetitive, yet the most creative dungeon pays Diablo II tribute. As the hero purifies the charred forest of hostile inhabitants with recently attained combos, the enemies drop useless, inconsequential equipment that mocks the hours traditionally spent sorting, selling, and repairing loot. The Creeper Defusal Kit prevents Minecraft’s creatures from exploding, Draak’s Armband transforms the wearer into a dragon after a 12-month cooldown, and the Flame Giant’s Pinky Cover of the Pony makes less sense than Pinkie Pie from Friendship is Magic. Evoland wears the irony on its sleeve, and I grinned with every amulet, helmet, or chest piece found.
How ironic that night vision only works with direct sunlight.
The visuals also tease the rose-colored glasses with which we view prior consoles. With the aid of a green tunic, yellow-haired adventurer, players will witness the progression of video game artwork firsthand. Evoland opens with feeble monochrome pixels typical of Nintendo’s Game Boy, then improves with color and clarity, from humble 8-bit origins to high-definition character models and dynamic lighting. Moreover, the gameplay and graphic advancements coexist; you never know what changes you will come across next. Players may gain the freedom to invade NPCs’ houses, or discover new background textures.
That does not stop the developers from, regrettably, exhausting Evoland’s bag of tricks too soon. Although you belong to the Order of Dragon Knights destined to fight great evils, the centuries of preceding peace have left Clink (the hero’s name by default) with great deals of free time. Luckily, employment has recently picked up thanks to the darkness spreading throughout the land. It was easy to play along with the lighthearted exposition, but the hackneyed storytelling never truly entertains.
You need not have owned a Super Nintendo to see the enemy's Final Fantasy reference.
The corruption has endangered innocent lives, and Kaeris needs Clink’s help to save her barren village ‒ just not before battling Dark Clink, borrowing an airship from Sid, or summoning Babamut. Evoland's parodies are replete with nostalgia, each one a well-deserved nod, except the narrative contains no outstanding qualities of its own. Instead, the developers fabricate a villain from thin air, who delivers the basis for his hatred five minutes before you murder him, then rush to a conclusion that would sooner fade to black than answer your burning questions.
Nevertheless, Evoland celebrates video games evolution. While the narrative crawls to a snail’s pace after the first hour, the gameplay upgrades keep the experience fresh enough to warrant a full playthrough. The application of turn-based combat, dungeon crawling, and visual improvements serve a historical purpose, too, but as an homage to other revered franchises, Evoland is nothing more.
Publisher: Shiro Games
Developer: Shiro Games
Release Date: April 4, 2013
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign)
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), Mac