You know what I have come to both love and hate with indie-titles? The callbacks to nostalgic titles. Not because it is necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I am more fond of old-school 2D titles rather than the jump to 3D. However, many use these nostalgic traits as visual-lures or poor game-design in order to sell hard-as-nail titles, without being smart, creative, or provide quality. For every solid Shovel Knight, there is an unfinished Mighty No.9, and for any creative Hat in Time, there is a bland Yooka-Laylee. Evoland is an interesting concept though. It makes you go through the evolution of RPGs and Action-adventure games from its limited start and all the way to early 3D! However, I am not gonna sugarcoat this. This is no Sorcery, Undertale or even Mystic Quest. This is the reason for why the term “nostalgia is a seductive liar” was made.
Wait, was that it?
The story is really nothing more than a simple tale of a hero who wishes to save the land from evil. While it is charming, it is incredibly limited with little to no dialogue worth talking about and you always being pushed to your next destination, with magical artifacts needed to reach the evil lord in order to slay him. It is really not a focus at all, but to be honest, the gameplay reflects the little effort provided here as well.
You start off the game with simple controls in an overhead view, with a sword to stab enemies with. From here, you go from static screen, to screen scrolling, to quickly soothing ones, with no lives to speak of. That is right, one hit will kill you and this lasts for a good portion of the beginning, except when you get out of the forest and into the overworld map. Here, you suddenly have time-based RPG-fights, with even a healthbar at disposal. If I make the change sound very sudden, it is because it is.
Evoland does not give a good introduction to the evolution or the complexity of an action-RPG and is rather shallow with it. Sure, there are chests that provide these visual and mechanical upgrades, but they feel forced as every single element must be unlocked, even NPCs. Despite the harsh beginning, though, the game is incredibly simple and straightforward, with even the only other party member for the RPG-fights coming with one healing-spell and one magic-attack later on, with neither being restricted by mana. This made buying potions in shops useless.
There is also a minimal variety to fights, with only some enemies blocking their front and RPG-fights boiling down to simply the amount of defense and strength they have. That is it. Even equipping new items is done for you, which makes every action feel lackluster and almost automatic. There are dungeons to go through, but besides wind pushing you back and fire-pits with trap-floors, there is nothing to brag about these. Even these traps are simple to navigate past, and the puzzles are moving-object-towards-buttons: rudimentary and lazy.
I also despise how late you get XP in the game. It feels like a poor way to halt your progression, instead of being a part of the idea behind evolution in action-games, due to time-based battles being introduced after the first 10 minutes of the game. After halfway through, the action-portion goes more point and kill, similar to Diablo or Torchlight, though it just requires you to hit one button to attack and all items are equipped for you. It makes it even more lackluster than the action-portion was, which is quite the accomplishment.
Not even the boss-battles require anything besides a “dodge then hit” mentality, with attacks being too easy to read for any challenge. If there is anything I can compliment the game for, it is one part where you shift between 3D and 2D planes for getting through areas, and use different perspectives for bombs and archery for puzzles. These are only used for a couple of puzzles or getting secrets, but come so late in the game that they feel like a last minute addition. For a game that can be beaten within 2 and a half hours, that is incredibly sad as there is nothing that gets developed, and it all feels rushed and limited in any mechanical aspect.
Evoland is just a novel concept with no substance. Everything is so straight-forward, that you won’t get any satisfaction from any encounter, puzzle or even the sense of becoming stronger. It is complete garbage as a game, as there is minimal interactivity and challenge, with the game rather lingering on its idea of what evolved this “action”-genre”. This is just a visual nod with nothing to show for in its gameplay.
Gameplay Score: 1/10
I guess you got the important parts of evolution down?
While I will say that we did not start with the Gameboy and then moved over to the NES, seeing the limitation going between stages from the early 8-bit, onwards to mode 7, the jump to 3D polygon, and eventually pre-rendered backgrounds, and so on, is a novel concept that Evoland does decently. It is charming in this regard with strong colors, and even a nod to playstation-RPGs which were quite dark and almost in a wasteland, and I like how the interface changes with the game’s visuals as well. I also find the character-designs cute, despite many enemies being clear references to Zelda, Final Fantasy and even Mario.
Though this does not excuse the lack of variety. You will be venturing through a forest in spring and in fall, a wasteland, two similar dungeons and one that resembles the basement of a castle. These are standard and don’t change up much from each other, with the colors only adding some diversity. It is clear that the style was a focus, but nothing to make the world itself memorable, making the game only a visual parody. I would also love for the option to toggle visual elements, like the zooming camera-angles for highlighting opening treasures.
The music is a highlight and charming, including 8-bit, 16 bit and rock-versions of tunes, providing nice auditive upgrades. They are similar in rhythm throughout, but provide nice setups for atmosphere and use enough varied instruments to be entertaining. There are only a couple of songs with remixes, but they are a nice listen with enough variety to not get stale, but it is odd that the 16-bit music is used with the early 32-bit visuals. The sound-effects are cute and I do like the bit-crunched effects and bloops for the menu. Some effects could use more punch to make attacks feel strong and meaningful, but they are at least serviceable.
Presentation Score: 6/10
Well, someone played Final Fantasy 8
There are secret stars to gather, though they are so easy to find, it is hardly worth it. I can’t say they made the exploration any better either, as the world is uninteresting to explore and rather narrow. Though if there is anything I enjoyed from this game, it was the card game. In a 3*3 layer, you and your opponent put down your cards, which has four numbers on each side. Whenever a card is placed by another with a higher counter, that card turns into the player’s colors and the one with the most cards at the end in his colors wins. It is a decent idea and finding cards could have been fun, but you quickly realize how unbalanced this game is due to some cards being overpowered and the novel idea, turns into shameful power gaming.
Extra Score: 2/10
Evoland only has its visuals to go by for an intriguing evolution, but as for the action RPG-genre, it lacks anything worthwhile. It is forgettable, straightforward, with no replay-value, is way too short, and only wishes to get praise for its presentation and its nods to nostalgia. This is just shameful in every sense.
- The idea is well implemented in the presentation
- The card-game could have been engaging
- The music and sound-effects are solid
- there is nothing interesting in the gameplay
- everything is automated
- lack of variety
- lingers on nostalgia and references
- boring dungeons
- no diverse enemies
- bosses are rudimentary
- terrible transitions that do not showcase evolution well
- no reason to explore for stars and the card-game is unbalanced
- rpg-portion is incredibly repetitive
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