Developer: Shiro Games
Publisher: Shiro Games
As anyone who's sat through our Opening Scenes video on Evoland can attest Shiro Games' curious title opens with a monochrome screen and a highly familiar tableau. There, in pixellated 8-bit, black-and-white glory, is a figure who looks the spitting image of a retro Link. To his right is a chest that unlocks further lateral movement. The chest now accessible to his left unlocks full 2D movement. The next chest unlocks basic scrolling, and then a few seconds later another brings the game to life with sound effects.
It's a simple, clever mechanism that allows Evoland to present something of an interactive piece of promenade history with a well-observed tribute to a litany of retro action-adventure titles and old-school RPGs.
What starts off as an instantly endearing romp through a land that borrows heavily from Game Boy titles such as Link's Awakening and Final Fantasy Adventure gradually evolves as our nameless hero discovers more and more chests, and brings the world to life with enemies, basic puzzles, a colour palette that gradually increases, and graphics that develop from 8 to 16 -bit, and then into high definition.
There's a plot of sorts, but it all subscribes to traditional models: wandering hero, ancient evil, with a feisty moral female healer who's village is under threat. Everything here is familiar, though that's kind of the point, so much of the enjoyment comes from nodding one's head with a small smile dancing across your lips as another little tribute is present or another homage made.
There are dungeons through which to crawl, and eventually a world map to traverse, and the game ends up flitting between a Zelda-esque action and the sort of turn-based battling you'd see in a typical Final Fantasy title. There's even a rudimentary Active Time Battle system in there, although the battles themselves are relatively basic affairs. You'll start with simple attack commands before eventually unlocking access to an inventory, an additional party member, and a little Summon ability. There's even a segment where you end up dungeon crawling in 3D as swarms of monsters attack you and then drop essentially meaningless loot in charming fashion.
It's a testament to the genres at the heart of Evoland that merrily adventuring through the land without a huge amount of context is as fun as it is, but beyond the love letter to some of gaming's most enduring franchises, there's not a lot of substance to be had. It's really not long before the pacing becomes something of a problem. The parodies and in-jokes are frequently worthy of a smile, but it's very clear that Shiro have absolutely no interest in outstaying their welcome whatsoever. Normally, that might be a cause for celebration, but when it comes to Evoland, it's rather manifested in a sense of being hurried along.
Features are unlocked and then overlooked almost too quickly. You get a bow, which is then used to light distant torches by firing arrows through ones that are already lit, but that's about it for the bow. Bombs are similarly used once to create an essential path, and then relegated to a side-role for when you find a crack in the wall. Playing on nostalgia is one thing, and Evoland ploughs that furrow incredibly well, but there's precious little invention to be had. Ideas are presented and then abandoned quickly, with random battles proving to be the exception to that rule. With no real need for grinding at all, those become annoying rather swiftly.
There's a segment where you're flitting between 2D and 3D by hitting crystals, switching the two perspectives around to solve navigational puzzles. It's very well-worked, and presents a nice change of pace, but once it's over (and that takes about 5 minutes), that's your lot. There are little hidden areas dotted about containing collectible stars and extra cards for a little mini-game that bears some resemblance to FFVIII's Triple Triad, but there's little real incentive to revisit any areas.
In the end, Evoland leaves the player with a sense of disappointment that's difficult to shake. It's such a fantastic idea, and the game starts off brilliantly, but the failure to develop its central premise is its downfall. In the end, we're left with a game that entertains for a little while before essentially pointing at great games from yesteryear rather than emulating their invention.
- The music will get stuck in your head
- Some genuinely funny gags
- Great premise...
- ...But sadly under utilised
- Lacks substance
- Final feeling is one of empty disappointment
The Short Version: Evoland is a love letter to some of this industry's finest franchises, but whilst it brims with winning nostalgic charm, it presents an ultimately shallow and unsatisfying experience that never engages anywhere near as much as the games to which it pays homage. It just makes you want to play those other games again.