Evoland Review – Darwinian Theory Applied to Zelda
Adventure games and RPG’s have come a long way since the days of bleeps and bloops. From grayscale, pixelated graphics to vibrant color and 3D, from vaguely musical beeps to digital orchestras, gaming has thoroughly evolved over the years. And nowhere is this more evident than in Evoland for the PC.
Evoland has just been released on Gog.com for $9.99, and the concept is certainly intriguing. You’re a nameless adventurer in a strange world, where instead of holding items, weapons, or armor, the game’s many chests more likely contain a new element of gameplay, or a graphical or musical upgrade. Chests release everything from the ability to scroll the screen to NPC’s to color, and to 3D and beyond. The game quite literally evolves as you play, changing or adding mechanics every couple of minutes.
It’s the sort of thing that seems difficult to criticize because those things that seem like goofs are a reminder of famous goofs from old RPG’s, so it’s difficult to say if such things were intentional. If I were to ignore the nostalgia factor, I’d mark off for them in a second, because these callbacks add nothing to the game. But the game is practically BUILT on nostalgia. Everything in it is a tribute to a bygone age of gaming.
The only problem is – there’s not much of an actual game here. It evolves, sure, but it evolves from a shallow, derivative Zelda clone that could be played on a Game Boy, to a shallow, derivative Final Fantasy clone on the Playstation, to a shallow, derivative Diablo clone on the PC and beyond. It felt less like a game and more like a guided tour through gaming history. That’s not to say it wasn’t an entertaining tour, it certainly was. I enjoyed myself here and there throughout the game, but with a couple of exceptions, it never really felt like I was in control – the game took me by the hand and showed me everything it wanted me to see.
The graphics are nice, from the 2D monochrome to the full color 3D. The characters are cute, and the areas and backgrounds are colorful and well done. The music isn’t bad at all, but nothing I’d listen to after the game is done. The only complaint I have about the sound is that occasionally there are about twice the amount of footsteps as there needs to be.
There isn’t much of a story, really, which is a shame, because a little more imagination could’ve really gone a long way with this title – maybe the core mechanic of an endlessly evolving world could have had something to do with the story, that could’ve been really interesting. As it is, you get a bog-standard RPG narrative about a faceless evil savaging the land, blah, blah, blah, nothing we haven’t come across hundreds of times before. The plot is banal and utterly predictable as long as you have any skill at pattern recognition. There’s a smattering of humor here and there that’s a little hit-and-miss, but it does keep things light and amusing. It’s not quite a parody, but it’s not satire, either, more like a gentle ribbing on gaming’s past.
The gameplay jumps back and forth like a confused frog. It starts as a top-down Zelda-style adventure, and before you know it, it’s a Final-Fantasy-style RPG. Nods are made to Dragon Quest and Diablo as well, with occasional sly winks to other famous franchises, but that’s really about it. And that’s kind of a shame – there have been so many memorable RPG’s and adventures over the years that they could’ve drawn mechanics, ideas, and battle systems from, but they didn’t, and aside from the technical difficulty of making something like that happen, there really isn’t a good reason not to.
Also, the game’s hardly challenging at all – this feels like a bit like Baby’s First RPG. There was one section of the game that was moderately challenging, and the final boss was a decent fight, but aside from that, the game was extremely easy. And pretty short as well – without collecting all the hidden goodies, I finished the game in about five hours.
Overall, I’d have to say that Evoland is a bit disappointing. The premise has a ton of potential, and this game only taps a small portion of it. There are sparks of fun and brilliance here, but not enough to justify a ten-dollar price tag. It could be that the premise just naturally lends itself to schizophrenic design, throwing a bunch of game types and mechanics in a blender usually doesn’t turn out well, but I can’t shake the feeling that this game could’ve been far better than it was.
I did enjoy some of it, but Evoland just isn’t quite evolved enough.