Many a game in recent years has attempted to mine old-school video game players’ nostalgia, usually with varying results. While they can sometimes be a fresh interpretation on classic gaming conventions, they can also easily be nothing more than cheap throwbacks that fail to build upon their foundations.Thankfully, Evoland does build upon its predecessors, serving as a love letter to the genres that inspired it, as well as a fun reminder of how games have progressed over the years.
The game begins in the style of an original Game Boy title, complete with black-and-white graphics. Your options are limited to moving to the right, although a treasure chest yields the coveted reward of being able to move left! A chest on the left will then grant you the power of four-directional movement! Continue to open chests and you will unlock smoother scrolling, sound-effects, music, improved graphics, and even color! Eventually, unlocks become more substantial and begin to change the actual gameplay.
This is the main gimmick of Evoland; eschewing traditional rewards such as equipment and upgrades and replacing them with new features and mechanics. As the game progresses, the gameplay will morph into the styles of its two main influences, The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy. Certain sections play and control like an old-school Zelda game, with its top-down perspective and dungeon layouts. Other areas, such as the over-world and some towns, take the form of a classic FF game, using random encounters and turn-based combat. There’s even a section that controls like Diablo (minus the pointing and clicking). The game is also not shy when making references with its character names (examples being Clink, Kaeris, and Zephyros).
It would be one thing if Evoland simply included a bunch of references to other games for the sake of it, but it’s the way the influences shape the gameplay and blend together almost seamlessly that makes it stand out. Slowly introducing the different features and mechanics helps players get a grasp on each play style, as well as adding some diversity. As soon as you start to get tired of one style, it will transition into another and continue to do so throughout the game. It also provides a nice sense of progression, making you wonder what new addition will be unlocked next. There’s even an area that requires you to switch back-and-forth between 8-bit graphics and fully 3D models, allowing for unique puzzle solving. The use of its influences in conjunction with its gameplay all feels relatively natural, despite each style being wildly different.
If there was one major problem with Evoland, it would be the controls. Since the original version was released on PC and built around using a controller, the analog stick and buttons have been mapped to the bottom of the screen. The issue arises when trying to target or avoid enemies, since movement isn’t always precise. What’s worse, dragging the icon for the analog stick will cause it to slide around the screen, making movement even more difficult. This results in frustrating situations where large groups of enemies will attack, usually resulting in what feel like undeserved deaths. It’s a shame that the controls can get in the way of the experience. Thankfully, since the game is only a few hours long, it’s over before it starts to become unbearable.
Evoland serves as a clever reminder that games of the past still have a place in the present and that their styles can even work together in the same game. If you’ve ever played an old-school RPG or action-adventure game, you will get a kick out of seeing the references to classic games. Even if you’ve never played these kinds of games, Evoland can also be a good crash-course to the early roots of the medium. If you can get around the rough controls, take a trip down memory lane with this one.