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Evoland

Reviewed on Steam

In the current age, Steam is filled to the brim with (indie) games that reference back to the golden retro days. Evoland (2013) belongs to one of the earlier ones released, as well as being one of the more popular ones. Fun fact: My colleague—who at the time didn’t know me too well—talked about it with relatively high praise, which caught my interest. He thought it wouldn’t be a game I’d enjoy since he didn’t know I was into retro games, yet it ended up being the first game on Steam that I completed! That should be a good sign right?

Evoland is the creation of Nicolas Cannasse from Shiro Games, which was also the first game they officially released. Originally, Cannasse created a game for an event called Ludum Dare. In short, Ludum Dare is a competition where participants are challenged to develop a game in two to three days, following a certain theme. The theme for the 24th edition of Ludum Dare was ‘’Evolution’’, which Cannasse took part in. This led to the creation of Evoland Classic, an earlier version of the Evoland we know today. Evoland Classic became a major success during Ludum Dare and managed to even take the first place, leaving 1400 other competitors behind! The game quickly gained praise from players, and thus Shiro Games decided to create the version we know today: Evoland. Before I move on, Evoland Classic is playable on the website of Shiro Games and I highly recommend checking it out. It’s a short game showing where Evoland originated from. You can check it out here!

It should be noted that Evoland is following a theme, and therefore there is not much of a story other than the history of video games. You do have your usual ‘’Oh noes an evil force is threatening the land, we’re all doomed and you are the one and only chosen hero who can save us!!’’ plot, but that’s not what the game should be played for. The story is made to make fun of the early retro games anyways, where that plot was a stable. Instead, you play Evoland for the story and evolution about the old days of gaming up till mostly the 64-bit era and slightly beyond. Aside from game mechanics, Evoland does this with, you guessed it, references to particular franchises that has inspired it. Final Fantasy in particular makes a lot of appearances; the first boss is called Kefka’s Ghost, and later on you gain Cloud’s Buster Sword as a regular weapon. There are also several enemies that take inspiration from Super Mario and the Legend of Zelda, and much more. Of course there is much more, but I encourage you to check them out for yourself as they are quite fun to discover.

So we’ve noted that evolution is the theme of the game, but how does that translate into gameplay? Answer: extremely well. I mean it won the Ludum Dare contest, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. When you start the game, you’re greeted by a small screen with no sound and 8-bit gray graphics where you can only walk right. Take a few steps and you unlock the ability to move left, and move left for a while and you unlock the ability to move in four directions. And that’s basically how evolution works in a nutshell. Over time you unlock colour, higher resolution textures, changes in camera, sound and much more. It’s such a simple mechanic but used brilliantly, as you feel the game is evolving around you. Areas that could previously not be visited become possible due to the lesser limitations, and are filled with more life due to you unlocking new evolutions.

Evoland’s gameplay is inspired by the following 3 franchises:

  1. The Legend of Zelda: The main gameplay inspiration for Evoland. Involves your usual dungeon crawling, puzzle solving and slashing enemies. Later in the game you also get a neat little gameplay mechanic where you can use a time stone to travel back from the latest generation you have achieved at that point back to the 8-bit era to solve puzzles. After all, stuff you do in the past may alter the future.
  2. Final Fantasy: The second gameplay inspiration, mostly used on the overworld and in one dungeon. The overworld is exactly what you would expect; multiple dungeons and towns, an airship to fly around with etcetera. The gameplay is a very basic Final Fantasy, or turn-based RPG in general. You buy new items from stores (though you can’t equip or unequip, not that it matters much), there’s no Magic Points bar, and there’s 1 Summon for the main character Clink and few magic spells for secondary character Kaeris (Aerith..?). I must address—and this is a small pet peeve—that it annoys me to no end that during battle Kaeris is in first position and Clink in second position, but in the attack box on the bottom of the screen their positions are reversed!! My autism can’t handle this ok.
  3. Diablo: The third—and most surprising—gameplay inspiration, only used for one dungeon. Like the two variations before, it’s basic but it works. For this dungeon only you can choose who to play as: Clink or Kaeris. One is the swordfighter, the other a mage. Also a good place to become a billionaire with all the money drops.
This just screams Diablo

All three gameplay styles are basic but work in their own right. Since it was my second playthrough however, I have to admit that the basic gameplay style does not do many favours in regards to replayability, and neither does the linear gameplay. In a nutshell: Once you have beaten the game for the first time, you have practically seen everything that the game has to offer and have little reason to return. Whenever a game deals with replayability issues, I try out different gameplay styles on my second playthrough—In Evoland’s case, a minimalist run. A minimalist run in this game would translate to progressing through the game with as little evolution as possible. Funnily enough, this actually works! For the most part at least. I managed to have the game crash itself after the first boss, which I assume could be fixed if I picked up the free camera evolution upgrade. I’ve been playing through the first part of the game without picking up the music upgrade, and playing at the lowest graphics possible. By theory you should be able to beat the game with very few upgrades, and the idea of that is very interesting. Let me know in the comments if you have managed to get through the game with a minimalist run, I would love to hear about it!

Evoland is not a very long game, which I personally don’t mind considering my pretty big backlog but it is something to keep in mind if you’re planning on getting the game. After you get the airship there are several sidequests and dungeons to go through, leading to character upgrades or the collectables: Hidden Stars and Twin Duel cards. The former is just used for achievements sake, and the latter is used for a cards minigame which—you guessed it—also leads to an achievement. There is a guard in the final town letting you know in what area(s) you missed a collectable, so you don’t have to worry about searching every dungeon for that one collectable you’re missing. Overall, Evoland should take about 5 hours max to complete 100%.

There is not much to say about graphics since you’re the one that controls it, but it can become good to look at. Practically, it’s precisely how I want a retro-inspired game to look and that’s more than enough for me. It fits well enough with the game, as does the soundtrack, though there are no noteworthy songs that jump out from the rest except for one: the final boss theme.

Evoland is a short, yet fun game that handles the theme it’s going for very well and should be one of the main reasons to play the game for. Gameplay is split into three different gameplay styles which function well enough but are relatively basic, which in return allows for little replayability other than your own method of playing it. References are all over the place for you to discover. It is also a very easy game for the completionists out there. My recommendation is to play and beat it once, and 100% it if you are an achievement hunter. And with that, here is my final verdict for Evoland:

There are only two ways to play Evoland: Either on Steam or on Mobile. Obviously I would recommend the Steam version, but because the gameplay doesn’t require too much input you can’t go wrong with playing the mobile version either. The Steam version has full controller support as well.
EDIT: A Nintendo Switch/Playstation 4/Xbox One version is now available as well. Pick your preferred consoles as they’re all good versions, and come alongside the sequel!

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