So, I was not intending on reviewing Evoland, mostly on account of having already reviewed it nearly 4 years ago. But I recently replayed it to provide a better reference for my Evoland II review, which is not done yet because I have been unable to clear Evoland II yet, on account of a scheduling error on my part. Now, I could just go a week without reviewing a game, but I’ve got a good record going for me, and the more I thought about it, I have enough to say about this game in particular to warrant a full review.
Platforms: PC(Reviewed) and Mac
Developer/Publisher: Shiro Games
Evoland was originally developed as part of a game jam, as a title that showed the gradual technological evolution of games before turning into a very heavy homage of classic 2D Zelda titles. It was a rather novel concept that managed to come in first place amongst 1400 other entries in the game jam, and amassed a sizable audience considering how obscure these sort of things tends to be. Seeing the audience this short little flash game garnered, it was decided to expand the game in the form of a full retail product, simply called Evoland.
Looking away from its history however, it would be easiest to describe Evoland as a Zelda and Final Fantasy flavored “homage” held together and made unique by how the game evolves technologically as things progress. What begins as a silent tile-based GameBoy-esque overhead action game eventually gains colors, sound effect, music, and increasingly improved visuals all before reaching the third dimension for its second half.
It is a very novel and interesting premise with a lot of potential that is not reached here. The game lacks much understanding of the subtleties to the evolution of games as a medium, and feels fairly surface level with its more simplistic and streamlined execution. While its attempts and efforts to mimic certain eras can either feel inaccurate or just underdeveloped. Such as how this game’s idea of an 8-bit homage involves using 256 colors while not abiding by a certain pallette, as NEs and Master Systems had to do. Or how the 3D mode sees few improvements over time and looks far more competent than early three dimensional endeavors. Or how the 16-bit era simply does not look that good.
Even the decision to have things begin by resembling a GameBoy game is questionable, as if the game was trying to mirror and represent the evolution of video game history, it should look closer to an Atari 2600 title or an early Ultima game. While the game would start off looking pretty bad with that, it would at least make the creators seem like more devoted fans of gaming history, rather than only expressing their interests in this narrow way.
The core gameplay is an overhead action game where the playable character is a sword wielding blonde boy clad in green clothing whose life is with three hearts. Enemies are comparable to keese, octorocks, wizzrobes, and darknuts, and the core gameplay involves some light puzzle solving using bombs and arrows while traversing through areas that could easily be described as dungeons. Also, there’s a boss fight with a version of the main character, except they have red eyes and are enshrouded in blackness.
While from Final Fantasy, the game borrows turn based combat that is placed on the overworld, right down to the way the menu designs and the active time battle system. Except whereas the gameplay of the Zelda-esque sections held strong, the combat here is severely underwhelming as the player can only control two characters, both of whom have only a few basic commands at their disposal, which fail to make the combat more interesting.
This second character happens to be a brunette mage girl who is clad in pink and red. She could only be a more clear analog for Aerith if she was killed by a silver haired antagonist and was later caressed in the main character’s arms. Which totally happens. Also, the buster sword is in the game, the main character can summon “Babamut”, the main antagonist is a demon lord named Zephyros, and a suspiciously familiar looking airship can be obtained from a man named Sid. Yeah, I’ve seen puddles that weren’t half as shallow as this game.
While I could find a game that so blatantly takes aspects from other games to be endearing in an odd way, Evoland just seems shallow in how directly it apes what I can only assume to have been some of the creator’s favorite games. It is as shameless as can be and so shallow it couldn’t even soak one’s shoes, though I do need to give it some credit. The gameplay is largely solid and competently done all things considered. The game moves at a steady pace in order to not feel as if things are being too bogged down. The simple story does admittedly grow in complexity while also becoming darker as time goes on, mirroring a trend where around the advent of 3D gaming, a lot of games began including darker themes. Also, you can play Triple Triad.
Though, there are still plenty of more negative aspects of the game. Such as the novel yet underutilized areas that introduce the mechanic of switching back between 3D and 8-bit mode. The not particularly fun homage of Diablo that involves a lot of button mashing and traversing across a boring cave map. Along with the fact that the Zelda and Final Fantasy sections of the game are largely independent from each other, with the increased stats, weapons, and life all remaining exclusive to their own section.
Visually, the game makes an earnest attempt at capturing looks from the era is represents, and while it is easy to identify certain sections as being 8-bit or 16-bit, many of the visual subtleties that go into these eras are not present. It has to do with how sprites are drawn, the colors used, and even how some of them simply move throughout the pixelated world. While the 3D environments look far more like a modern independently made game than the Playstation-era that it is trying to invoke, as it lacks the same iffy 3D models and visuals that generation is known for. While that does prevent the game from looking bad, it also prevents it from feeling like a genuine display of the lesser aspects of the evolution the game is named after.
I could see myself really enjoying Evoland on conceptual level, but the execution of it all is lacking. Its focus is rather narrow, the evolution the game is named after is limited, while not affecting the gameplay as much as I would have assumed, and is taking enough from classic Legend of Zelda and Final fantasy titles to make me wonder if it is proper to just call the game an “homage”. It’s admittedly a cute and seemingly earnest effort driven by a small team’s adoration and affection towards the medium and its history, but it’s a pretty shallow and simple experience as a whole.