They say that smell is the most memory inducing sense. A whiff of a scent can take you back to any time or place. For me, and I imagine most people reading this, the most prolific thing to take me back is gaming. I can remember my early years of gaming, Amiga, Gameboy, Snes and Megadrive all hold a special place for me. I remember playing Gargoyle’s Quest on the Gameboy when I was 5. Even now when I think of it the music instantly comes back to me and as I type this I’m humming the first world music over and over.
Nostalgia is a double edged sword. I’m sure if I went back and played Gargoyle’s Quest it wouldn’t hold the same effect over me, the concept of ‘You can never go home’ comes to mind when thinking about our early years of gaming. It could be that we’ve become jaded or our memories forget the bad, or it could be that games are just better now. We tend to remember the good times, not the awful loading screens that tortured us for 10 minutes or the horrible controls. But then sometimes, nostalgia is what we need, you need to know where you’ve come from to appreciate where you are. Evoland takes this idea and shoves 25 odd years of action role-play games into our face demanding we smell their cheese.
Evoland starts, as my own story does, in monochrome. You are but a whiley little sprite in a top down world where everything seems happy to be just expressed in a few shades of grey. Straight away you are given the true thrust of the game, find the chests. You are locked into using just the right key to open a chest, upon opening it you unlock the left key. This leads you to the next chest allowing you to move in 4 directions, the world is quiet and lonely, but before to long you have found chests containing sound effects, music and finally monsters. These all effect the flow of the game and slowly but surely you’ll see how clever this game truly is.
After a slightly too shorter time you unlock some colour into the world. The initial game is basically early Zelda, with each graphical unlock you are taken from Zelda’s monochrome/256 colours to Chrono Trigger’s 16bit colours to Final Fantasy’s 3D movement and before too long you’ll hit HD Diablo with dynamic lighting, all the real advancements of the action RPG world covered in a few short hours, and yes I do unfortunately mean short. The gameplay changes a number of times through this gaming experience, and an experience really is the best way to describe this game.
Graphics aren’t the only thing to get the upgrade juice in this game, you will maneuver from chiptune to Final Fantasy-esque battle music to creepy orchestral score for the later missions. The game does as good job with the audio as it does with the graphics. The soundtrack features tracks that are instantly recognisable without the player having heard them before. It’s a wonderful job with such love and affection, it always beautifully treads the line between copying and paying homage.
The story is a slight let down, it does a good job of replicating the classic days of early RPGs but doesn’t allow itself the timeframe or script of Final Fantasy, it just gives you a girl and says “get her home”, when you manage this task you might as well be greeted by a faceless man who points and says “now go there”. It could be said I’m being unfair here, there is a plot, the girl has magical powers and there’s something to do with a dragon and some amulet or….honestly I don’t know. The game did a fantastic job of replicating Final Fantasy in that I was actually annoyed about being sent all over Laogai City to try and find some bombs, back and forth between loading screens to find out it was back where I started.
This game doesn’t just show you the good side of nostalgia, as I said at that start of this review, we sometimes gloss over the flaws, like Final Fantasy game’s pacing. In the main game you are using 8 way attacking like any top down RPG, but on the map between towns and dungeons you are subject to one of my biggest gripes, random encounter battles. These are the bane of my life, especially when I’m one step away from my location. In Evoland although they are done with humour the tedium doesn’t escape and you will just spend the time tapping space bar to get your hero to attack the enemy and get the fight over.
The whole game is a homage wrapped in homages. The Zelda gameplay is replicated throughout the game with our hero, who’s default name is “Clink” (an amalgamation of Link and Cloud, though hopefully I didn’t need to explain that), using a sword, bow and arrow and bombs. Around the mid way mark he defeats a shadow version of himself and finds a sword that looks awfully like a certain unfeasibly large weapon previously used by a spikey hair’d douche who can’t keep an eye on his girlfriend. Final Fantasy games are clearly the main sources for inspiration here, games that have had to evolve themselves through the ages, but there’s also, for the keen eyed, many other little references, including the following enemies;
The game isn’t perfect, it does suffer from the flaws of the games it’s paying tribute to, be it the wonky combat of early Zelda or the random battles I spoke of above. For the rest of the game things seem to work perfectly barring some frame rate issues in the later sections where there are lots of enemies and lighting on screen. My only other issue might be a weird personal one but, the game only has one save slot. The problem there is that I wanted to show some friends the game without spoiling where I was up to but showing them a good chunk of gameplay, with the fear of them overwriting my one slot I had to just explain. Also one save slot and non-transferable saved games makes it hard for reviewers to screen shot games, that’s a very personal issue though. Some people may take issue with this game, I certainly did when I first heard about it, I worried this wasn’t a game, but was actually just an interactive history lesson, and whilst it does teach you about the past it does also feature some great gameplay and some genuinely laugh out loud jokes.
I want people to buy this game, it’s as simple as that, not only to do the obvious stuff like show support to indie scene and enjoy a good game, but also because now I own a copy of this I want to save it for 15 years so when I have children I can sit them down and say “Don’t worry kids, I’m not going to force you to sit through Final Fantasy VI like I wanted to, just play this instead”. We as an industry are awful at keeping records of our history, I’ve said before how emulation may be the only way to keep a digital library of our past gaming experiences and ventures, for better or worse. But with a gaming experience like Evoland we have more chance of maybe not keeping the original games for future generations, but at least show them entertaining and accurate facsimiles of them; in a bitesize chunk their cred snatching cyber minds can handle.
DOWNLOAD HERE: http://www.gog.com/gamecard/evoland
+Gameplay is mixed up frequently
+Time travel mechanics for puzzles are interesting
-The Story is generic and lacking
-May not meet some people’s interpretation of a ‘game’
+Varying awesome soundtracks that match the eras of gaming
+The selling point of the game
+Such diverse and wonderful styles, evocative of many eras of RPG and can’t help but remind you of those times