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May 11, 2018

Evoland


What’s better than a video game that makes nods to the video game industry’s History? Well okay, probably a lot of things according to some, but that’s beside the point. Thing is, how do you integrate that into the game? Well, at least one title out there has found a novel and interesting way to do so.


Evoland, developed and published by Shiro Games in 2013, is the story of ????? (His official name is Clink, but you can give him a name of your own later), in a world that is mostly a parody/hybrid of Zelda and Final Fantasy. But it’ll be a while before you can do anything related to that. As the game starts, your character can only move to the right. Then he gets to a treasure chest that says he can now move to the left! And now a treasure chest on the left allows him to move up and down! And then you find another chest that scrolls the screen, allowing you to explore the world! OH MY GOD, FREEDOM!

I CAN MOVE
THIS IS THE GREATEST DAY OF MY LIFE
I HAVE SPENT YEARS ONLY CAPABLE
OF GOING TO THE RIGHT

"Double Twin"? That sounds like a fun game, boy!
Indeed, everything that is a major feature of a video game has to be earned by finding a treasure chest around the world presented here. And, of course, most of those chests are inevitable. That’s really for the better, as they also change the graphics. From an original Game Boy style to Game Boy Color, then NES, then Super NES. On the way, you also open treasure chests that make enemies pop up on the field, as well as a means of attacking with a sword. Ah, now this is Legend of Zelda! Also, the sword can cut bushes, so that’s an incentive to revisit the previous areas in order to find secrets.

We have moved up in graphical quality!
Soon: The NES step!

Because yes, there are secrets in this game – namely, multiple treasure chests contain stars or trading cards. The inventory screen, brought up with the Tab key, lists the total number of stars and cards to find, and how many you’ve found so far. Backtrack if necessary, but you gotta find them all!

"We have gone Super NES. The next step is 3D.
There is no coming back after that."

Good ol' slimes. What would an RPG game be without
them as the first enemies?
Oh, right - original.
Finally, we unlock a Story Mode, and that’s where things get interesting.  I can finally start making story-based jokes! We now discover the overworld map, which functions more like an RPG rather than an adventure game. The fights are done in the RPG style, too! Yes, with Life Points and enemy attacks and… no Experience, weirdly enough. How do you want me to grow experienced as a hero if I don't get any experience?? And so, the game then alternates between overworld maps with RPG battles and regular maps with Legend of Zelda-style battles, including bosses in both forms. You also have only one Hit Point at first, until you find a chest granting you a proper three hearts – again, much like in Zelda games.

The Magical Seed of Instant Aging: In a water well near you!

You get to the first village and you have to unlock treasure chests to gain access to an inn, a shop, and even NPCs. They refuse to talk to a child, so you find yourself forced to go on a mini-quest to find a seed that brings your character to adulthood, because who sends children on deadly quests across the land??? And, y'know... childhood is overrated anyway, right?

"Party unlocked! Not of the celebratory kind."
You do get coins from beating enemies in the RPG-style fights, so you can use that money to buy potions, weapon and armor, and you have to buy those to progress towards the first dungeon. On the way we meet a girl who says she has to go into that dungeon to go back to her village, so she joins the party. Ah, some company! And an excuse for cutscenes! So what’s her name? Aeris? Cute name! With a name so adorable, I hope nothing bad happens to you!

And so we have a first cave in which we battle enemies and a boss in the RPG style, followed by a dungeon that starts off as pretty empty. Yes, you unlock dungeon features as you move forward, such as keys in chests, pressure plates, and everything else.

From there, we move to the next area, with a new town in which we acquire bombs. And, of course, that means we have to backtrack through the whole game to find any secrets we may have missed because we needed the bombs to blow up obstacles in the way. Never mind all the silly backtracking required to get the bombs from a villager!

We've gone 3D, there is no turning back!
Also of note, we are definitely in Zelda Land now. Heart quarters,
a wizard shooting fire, wall breakable with a bomb, a dungeon,
a locked door... Link called, he wanted his world back.

Going against the one Double Twin player in the village?
Good luck. He's the only one because he kept beating
everybody else and they all got annoyed.
That second village also contains a card-based mini-game, played with the cards collected from chests. In it, you duel an NPC with a deck of cards showing monsters, bosses and characters of the game, with stats on all four sides. If you set a card adjacent to another, with your card having a higher number on that side to the one next to it, that opponent card gains your color. The color with the most points at the end wins. It’s more addictive than the main game, I swear. Too bad your chances are too slim to beat any deck higher than Medium difficulty… that is, until you collect stronger cards in later areas, of course.

For the record, that kid chasing the butterfly is the one
who has the bombs.
Kids, amirite? So glad I chose to turn into an adult.

Only one place where you can go back and forth between
the past and the present. Also, anything can activate these
stones. That might be a failsafe.
I suppose this is the point where spoilers begin. In order to enter the dark tower, you must collect two pieces of amulet. One is in the Sacred Grove south of the village, and it’s a more puzzle-focused area where the hero gains a bow and can use it to snipe enemies from afar. He can also throw arrows that get lit over fires and can burn down young trees… in the past!

Oh yeah, that area has a big puzzle element that switches between past (2D graphics and present (3D graphics). At that point in the game, you’ve been 3D for a while, so a throwback to the two-dimensional look is refreshing, even if ultimately its main purpose is to beat a puzzle.

Hopefully changing the past doesn't cause a butterfly
effect that ruins my present...

Enemies everywhere! Masses of baddies!
Which, we can all destroy easily.
After getting an amulet fragment there, we can go in a cave to collect the other. That one has TONS of enemies, and is fairly complex too, so you find a Map that updates the game’s system, allowing you to know where you’re going. Took long enough! Of course, this is also where your limiting heart quarters are replaced by a proper health bar, because there are so many enemies here. It’s pretty tough, too. (Note: The health bar is available in that area only. Everywhere else, you still have the heart quarters.) And the boss at the end is no slouch, either, following Clink very closely, summoning bats and tossing blue fireballs. Thankfully, the dungeon also let the hero learn to combo his attacks, making the fight a little easier.

This is probably the best boss fight in the game...
I mean, it's my opinion, like everything on here.

And yes, like every other area in the game, this one pokes fun at plenty of video game elements, especially the body-based equipment upgrades that are dropped randomly by enemies (though, here, every single one is absolutely pointless). For our troubles, we get the second amulet piece, which opens the dark tower in the corner.

This game doesn't have unicorns.

An enemy called Zerphyros, killing a character
named Aeris... Subtle. /sarcasm
Let’s go right now! What’s the worst that can happen? Well, the bad guy, named Zephyros, shows up instantly and battles Clink and Aeris. Surely enough, he’s a difficult boss. At some point, he gets angry and unleashes his full power onto the party, literally killing Aeris. No! Your name was too cute! You weren’t supposed to die like that! Aeris, Aeris… I should have known! Your fate had been foretold many gaming generations ago! Aeriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis!

Oh, I'm such a drama llama.

The jokey tone of the references up to that point kind
of steal the emotion from that scene, unfortunately.
It’s just the 365th gaming reference this game throws at us. Besides, it was easy to guess what would happen. Raise your hand if you saw it coming – whoa, whoa, that’s too many hands! I didn’t know there were so many people in here! Okay, let’s make that easier. Who didn’t see this coming? … … …Huh. 0%. That says it all.

Might as well say it outright, the references in the game are blatant and obvious. Making a game that relies on references is a tricky thing, actually: Sure, you slip in a lot of jokes for those who know what you’re parodying, and everyone gets a kick from recognizing something they know. And on top of that, Evoland makes references mostly to famous series, not just the ones mentioned so far, but also Dragon Quest, Diablo and even Skyrim.

Please tell me it's the knee. Don't tell me it's up the...
But that’s the thing: Humor is good, but don’t overdo it with references, and make sure that you can back up your setting with actual, good gameplay. References alone do not a good game make. I could personally see why someone would grow eventually tired of the constant references and call-backs to famous franchises over time. Thankfully, Evoland has a full story (which embraces the clichés), a large map to visit, loads of secrets, puzzle areas, and collectibles that can add a couple hours to your playthrough. After the first fight with Zephyros (say it fast enough and it starts to sound like the name of another famous video game villain), I took nearly two hours to hunt down all the missing cards and stars, and some were hidden so well that I needed a guide. This game has the gameplay to back up its referential humor.

I am the superstar!

Besides, after Aeris passes and Zephyros retreats to the Mana Tree, Clink inherits an Airship that lets him travel all over the map, though it doesn’t allow him to land on forests (sounds familiar?). Super-useful to visit the whole map quickly and find the missing collectibles. Also, it’s the only way to access some bonus dungeons and areas, many of which contain some of the collectibles. You’ve got plenty of time, there’s almost no story left anyway. But hey, let’s cover that while we’re here.

That's a pretty badass final boss.
Clink walks into the Mana Tree and Zephyros shows up as a rock monster, more like an armor around him. It has three pink spots on the body: Two on the hands, one on the chest. Slash at those on the hands whenever possible to render them unusable by Zephyros, but don’t focus all your attacks on the weak point on the chest. Zephyros is a trickster bastard, this armor’s true weak point is the ball on its back. The only way to destroy that one is to slash the front once, then run 180 degrees around the field and slash at the ball. And so, Zephyros comes out of hiding, and the final phase is the common tennis boss trope from Zelda games. Villain tosses a ball of energy, swing the sword to toss it back at him.

And so Zephyros is defeated, and we don’t get much of an ending, but at least that was a fun game.

So yeah, I enjoyed this one! I was going in, expecting a game that goes all-out with the evolution of gaming (it’s in the name after all), and the game mostly delivers. It goes from colorless games with minimal gameplay to a full-on 3D game with RPG combat, dungeon crawls, puzzle areas, forests to visit, bonuses and… well, a full game basically.

Airship review: Pretty decent, kinda big, cannot land over
forests. 1/10, can't do barrel rolls.
The references don’t really end through the game, from the first Octoroks and Goombas all the way to the Airship. However, much of the interest in the first half of the game is in seeing the world evolve as you open chests that update it. From moving left, to moving around, to having color, to having a sword and enemies, to having puzzles, to turning 3D… so on, so forth. After a while, the game upgrades just stop, as the game has reached the best it could do. As a result, most areas are in 3D, but a few areas will retain the original pixelated 2D, mostly the first village and some areas surrounding it. The second half of the game feels like a straight-up RPG with little to distinguish it from others outside of the blatant inspirations taken from legendary action-adventure and RPG franchises. Seriously, an Airship? That's from FF1, which I reviewed way, way back.

I’m actually a little disappointed that the game becomes a bit too “normal” after its awesome set-up where it was to evolve along with your progress. Sure, there are late-game dungeons that involve time-travel puzzles, and those force the game to shift between 3D and 2D, but that’s about it. Maybe one could include in there the final battle, taking place around a fully three-dimensional arena instead of just being a hack-and-slash with 3D graphics on an otherwise 2D plane. The shift between styles is interesting as well, seeing sprites evolve and later turn into 3D models, and so do the enemies of the overworld map. The UI and gameplay is also shaken up a bit every once in a while, adding new elements depending on which game is currently being ripp-I mean, homaged, such as the Diablo system in the cave where you look for an Amulet piece.

Chestnuts and a turtle. Why is that familiar...
The story really isn’t much, but I love the gameplay, I love the jokey touches all over the place, I love the switch in styles. I loved seeking out the collectibles at the end, even if it was difficult and infuriating at times due to some of them hiding behind fake walls. The difficulty of the game was just right, whether it’s the puzzles, the boss battles or the dungeon-crawling. The final boss is tough as you’d expect, and the whole thing has a decent gameplay length. And there are anti-frustration features, an NPC will tell you where to find the cards and stars you missed, so the game at least tries to help you in finding things.

That "DANGER!" logo seems awfully familiar too...
Now, will you like this one? Most likely, but possibly not. It is true that even past the point of showing the evolution of video games, Evoland keeps going with the references and it may get annoying to some after a while. Just because I didn’t mind doesn’t mean nobody will mind. I guess the card game has the odds stacked against you until you find enough cards. The AI in that mini-game is friggin’ savage. A lot of secrets also aren’t hinted at until you do some exploration on your own.

I recommend Evoland. It’s good stuff. Feel free to check it out whenever you feel like it.