Evoland 2, another random video game I dredged up from the Humble Bundle “Humble Choice” collection for September. Technically, it’s “Evoland 2: A Slight Case of Spacetime Continuum Disorder” – but this is a relaxed corner of the internet, we don’t use Sunday names here.
From the outside, Evoland 2 looks to be another fairly generic 16-bit indie action-adventure-RPG – you know, the ones designed to allow middle-aged gamers to go back to a simpler time, when narrative’s were linear, NPC dialogue was ripped straight out of Dungeons and Dragons, and the “Chosen Hero” trope was still an legitimate concept on which to base a fantasy game. Believe me though, when I say that Evoland 2 is no ordinary 16-bit indie action-adventure-RPG, but rather a wildly creative and deliciously nerdy parody of nearly every videogame ever made, dressed up as a generic RPG. Allow me to explain.
Most of the game is played in an overhead style – think “Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening” or “Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past”. However, I can safely say that the sheer variety of gameplay styles in Evoland 2 is it’s most unique and memorable quality. The game switches things up every chance it gets; as soon as you think you’ve gotten to grips with the core mechanics, the game won’t hesitate to blindside you with something completely new and unexpected.
Each area of the game mimics a certain style of video game. Evoland 2 takes a stab at being everything from a puzzle game to bullet-hell shooter, Bomberman to Final fantasy, side scrolling platformer to 2D fighting game. I love it – it keeps you on your toes and kills any chance of the gameplay getting repetitive.
Even the graphical style varies greatly depending on what time period you’re playing through. As the in-game timeline progresses, the graphics become more and more modernised: you have the present, with a primitive 16 bit graphics (think Pokemon Emerald and Ruby); then the present, with more complex, modern Final Fantasy XI style pixel-graphics; then the future, with stylised and fully-animated 3D graphics. It’s a fun reminder of how video game graphics have advanced over our own lifetimes as one goes forward and backward, not only through in-game history, but through videogame history as well.
Evoland 2 is a funny game. This is a fantasy RPG that doesn’t take itself too seriously at all, which might put fans of more high-brow traditional fantasy RPGs off. There are so many pop-culture video game franchise, movie, and tv show references scattered throughout the game – in dialogue options, hidden in the environments, even in characters themselves – that the game sometimes feels like it was intended as a love letter to all things geeky. There’s something in this game for everyone to have a mini fan-girl moment over.
The dialogue itself is humorous and light-hearted. The characters interact in a very sarcastic manner with each other which is really entertaining to watch. The characters themselves are quirky and relatable, often embodying a lot of the common archetypes in pop culture: you have the silent protagonist; the hard-boiled, overly-literal one; the playful, optimistic one; the strategic, analytical one. The gang’s all here! And because the entire game is a parody of video games, you can’t even complain that it’s unoriginal.
The story in Evoland 2 is very clever, particularly in the way it plays with the concepts of time travel and the butterfly effect. Everything you do in the past affects the present, and everything you do in the present affects the future.
Eventually, your actions become cyclical – your initial interactions in the past trigger a cycle of cause and effect that might go on forever – in a way that isn’t obvious to the player until it’s too late. For such a humorous game, the story it tells about the nature of time travel, and the reality of meddling with the past, is surprisingly complex, dealing with mature topics like genocide, war, racism, grief and revenge – it definitely gets you thinking, and questioning if you did the right thing overall. Did you really right the world’s wrongs? Were the consequences of your decisions worth it in the end?
Lack of Instruction
Unfortunately, I found myself relying quite heavily on a walkthrough whilst playing through Evoland 2. I felt the instructions for where you had to go next or what the next objective was were too vague (especially in the latter half of the game). Usually instructions are referenced during either a cutscene or during dialogue with one of your companions, and never spoken of again after that.
Personally, I like to be directed to my next objective quite explicitly – I don’t want to spend time trying to piece together clues and figure out where to go next. However, I recognize that solving cryptic directions is considered part of the fun of older style RPG adventure games (which is definitely the style of game that Evoland 2 mimics most strongly) where finding out where to go is part of the bigger puzzle. I admit I never had the patience for traditional RPGs – in fact, I’m sure others might criticise me for wanting my video games to spoon-fed me – so I am prepared to accept that this is just my personal preference.
The control of Evoland 2 on PC takes some getting used to (that’s a polite way of saying that the control is terrible.) There is no way to use a mouse, you have to use your keyboard for everything: moving, jumping, interacting with objects and attacking. The key mapping is counterintuitive – attack is mapped to both the shift key and the F key, which are bizarre choices for such a common function in my opinion – and as far as I know, there is no way to remap the keys to something which feels more natural. You’re stuck with the keys the game wants you to use. I would recommend playing with a console controller instead if you’re comfortable using one.
Videogames Make Me Happy concludes…
The truth is, Evoland 2 is no joke. Don’t be fooled by appearances – behind it’s quirky, casual, spoof-esque exterior, is a truly enjoyable and wholly legitimate action-adventure RPG. Who’d have thought a game that parodies itself, unrivalled in it’s self-awareness and self-deprecation, would actually have an engaging and well-crafted story to tell the player. Nobody was more surprised than me.
As a reviewer, I have found the greatest pleasure of sampling a wide variety of video games is being completely blindsided by a game you thought would be one thing, but turns out to be something else entirely. Perhaps that is why Evoland 2 has made such an impression on me. It’s a game built upon surprising the player – be that surprising the player with new mechanics or gameplay styles, or by being a far better game than it makes itself out to be!