Evoland (PC) Review

By Jorge Ba-oh 10.04.2013

Review for Evoland on PC

The biggest adventure and RPG releases today have plenty to be thankful for over the past thirty years of game development, whether it's from dabbling with an inventory, engaging with non-playable characters or using keys to open doors. The pioneers of video game mechanics include Nintendo's own The Legend of Zelda series and Square's Final Fantasy that have ignited adventuring imaginations since 1987. It's quite often that these mechanics and their origins are forgotten because they have become interwoven in the adventure or RPG formula. Of course, subsequent and more recent franchises have forged their own contributions to the genre, but the core principles have remained consistent throughout the years.
Now indie project Evoland aims to rekindle adventurers with the old days and demonstrate just how far the genre has come. Does it work as a playable concept, though?

Indie release Evoland aims to take players down memory lane or, for the younger generation, explain and illustrate how graphics, gameplay and sound have evolved over the years. Released on PC/Steam, the project is being considered for Nintendo platforms given the rich amount of Nintendo heritage that's found in the game, so Cubed3 decided to take the current PC edition for a spin.
Originally christened Evoland Classic, the project started as a contest entry by developer Nicolas Cannasse as part of a 30-hour challenge to create a game. Cannasse brushed past the competition and the online/web browser version was played by over 300,000 players in just a few months. Since then, developer Shiro Games picked up the project and has since fleshed it out into a fully playable experience on the PC.

Evoland begins with the protagonist on-screen alongside two chests with the caption "you've been granted access to the right key." Curiously, tapping the right button makes the hero shift over to unlock what's inside that tempting box of secrets. The answer is, naturally, the left key. Therefore, nip over to the other side of the screen et voila, the next chest unlocks four way directional movements and so the player can now kick exploration up a gear.

What makes this concept different, though, is that it starts in 8-bit, original Game Boy-esque mode, where the screen is blanketed in a rich palette of nostalgic black and white and there are barely any pixels to form any substantial detail. It looks very much like the first Pokémon games or Super Mario Bros. initially, pulling at the heartstrings for those pixellated years. From then on it's a case of finding more treasure chests to unlock new technological advancements. Even the little things that probably frustrated developers many decades ago, like talking NPC characters or using a weapon in real-time, are progressively unlocked. Even a flexible health metre, a staple in practically any adventure game today, is unlocked as progress is made through to the overworld.

Screenshot for Evoland on PC

The palette shifts from 8- to 16-bit, bleeding more colour and texture into the world but keeping the actual design elements the same to interactively illustrate the change. For example, a The Legend of Zelda-inspired bat will be made up of sixteen pixels initially and when eventually unlocking the high definition 3D textures, the same bat will try to gnaw the character's face off in nifty 3D. It's a great mechanic that shows the progression, but perhaps could be used more to show the benefits of 2D versus 3D within the game itself. There are moments when the more retro visual style comes back into play, but for the most part it's a case of a linear sense of progression.

Beyond the addition of gameplay mechanic and graphics, there is an actual storyline and game to be had in Evoland. The main game is clearly inspired by The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy, attempting to blend both turn-based battles and real-time dungeon crawling and combat. These are two very distinctive play styles that are a challenge to try and meld together, for the most part coming together but sometimes becoming confusing.

A majority of the campaign has the 2D Zelda flavour - walking skeleton warriors with swords, octopuses roaming the land, teleporting fireball wizards and having to unlock doors with keys. It reflects on how much more challenging these sorts of titles were before the advent of third-person 3D and lock-on camera. The same niggles that plague older Zelda releases are apparent here; needing to take on enemies from a certain direction, the restrictions in eight-way movement and so on, but it invokes the same relentless drive to complete a dungeon area. Evoland captures that The Legend of Zelda essence down to a tee - Shigeru Miyamoto and company would likely give this portion of the game a big thumbs-up.

The Final Fantasy inspired portions are more of a scattering of breadcrumbs perhaps - smaller and seem to be thrown into the mix, though are, of course, very much core in illustrating the history of turn-based RPGs. These are generally kept to the mass overworld and are random in nature, used to forage for money, aptly called Gils, to purchase equipment and items to help along the way. It's fun to play through these battles and very much reminiscent of the classic and simpler Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest battle schemes, but could perhaps have been incorporated in a more thorough way. Either balance turn-based with real-time more, or keep it strictly to one style as the shift between both styles does feel disjointed at times.

There aren't a wide range of tools at the player's disposal after racking up the majority of treasure chests, but the fundamental concepts - sword, bow and bomb - do work well with the number of puzzles and boss battles throughout the adventure. The main draw here is finding out what will appear next, how the landscape will change or what item awaits in the next dungeon, like a development diary for The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.

Music is often a neglected area of video games - coincidentally left for last in this feature - but Evoland does a solid job of recapturing a retro flavour that brings it to the fore through a marching midi beat as players pace through the tree-filled fields, a slightly sinister tone through the dungeon areas, and a tranquil sense of community spirit in the village area.

Screenshot for Evoland on PC

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Evoland is an interesting concept that takes players back in time from the very beginning of adventure game development and walks them through their history with plenty of charm and inspiration from the franchises that helped pioneer the genre's roots like The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. It is great that these titles and the classic play-styles are being acknowledged and celebrated in an industry perhaps saturated with machine guns and attempts at being "gritty" without much substance. It doesn't come without its fair share of issues, but is a solid attempt at documenting decades of development in a playable way. Evoland is certainly worth trying out on Steam, or playing the original demo version online and would be a great addition to the Nintendo Wii U or 3DS eShop catalogue if developer Shiro Games chooses to pursue the download service.









C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

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