2013. A different time. A whole new generation of consoles were announced and subsequently released. Generation defining games like GTA V, The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite were released to immense critical acclaim. And the first Evoland saw a limited release on Windows and OS X, with the sequel releasing a year later, both receiving positive reviews. And now both of these have been bundled together in a new collection – the Evoland Legendary Edition – for newer consoles, almost six years after the release of the original.
Evoland, developed by Shiro Games, is essentially a love letter to the video game industry. Both games in the collection start as an old fashioned 2D top down side scroller, before gradually evolving into something more complex.
The first game tells the story of your role in protecting a village from an evil force, while the second involves your efforts to travel back to your own time after you, and your band of heroes, are hurtled to another time period. It’s really standard classic RPG, Final Fantasy-esque fare. But that’s sort of the point.
Sprinkled throughout are amusing and often laugh out loud mockings of standard video game tropes. The game also lets you choose the names of certain characters you meet, including your own, but you may be better off going with the ones that Evoland gives you. Clink, Kaeris and Zephyros are just some of the names you’ll come across. And those are just from the first game. As you can see, Shiro Games really aren’t being subtle here, but that’s not their intention. Their love of classic games is clear for all to see, and it’s endearing.
Film buffs will also be pleased, as there are some references to iconic film classics, my favourite of which is an absolutely brilliant moment referencing the original Blade Runner. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get excited when I saw it.
One of the most unique concepts Evoland has is the evolution of its gameplay. As mentioned before, both games start with a top down 2D format, but as you progress, the world around you becomes more detailed, including the ability to switch to 3D, along with the introduction of improved background textures and graphics, and different combat styles.
Real time combat is featured here, which includes standard hack and slashing against enemies including skeletons, spiders and spooky looking fire wizards, as well as a more RPG inspired, turn based combat. Both styles feature prominently. There does seem to be a slight preference towards the former, which is a little disappointing, as a greater emphasis on strategy would have been welcomed, given the games that Evoland is attempting to evoke here. Even features like your health completely change. See, at the beginning of the first game, you die in a single hit, adding a sense of danger early on, although the game doesn’t really start out difficult. You’ll eventually find a chest which morphs your health into a series of hearts, before progressing to a health bar. It’s this knowing sense of irony, and celebration of classic video games that feeds Evoland’s greatest strength – nostalgia. Evoland will take you back to a simpler time, when you grew up playing the likes of Pokemon, Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy. It knows how to tap into and use this enormous wealth of video game royalty, as well as poking fun at the conventional tropes that all games from older generations seem to share.
The gameplay largely balances open world exploration in outdoor environments, with some dungeon crawling thrown in here and there to mix up the pacing, much like the games that Shiro Games loves so dearly. The second instalment, in particular, throws together a smattering of different sections to give players the opportunity to experience the equivalent of about five different games rolled into one. Variety is the spice of life, isn’t it?
One section is reminiscent of old school bullet hell games, where you have to shoot relentless waves of respawning enemies in a flying airship (which I personally found an absolute nightmare). A section soon after this is basically ripped from Street Fighter, where you have to expertly use fighting combos to defeat a ridiculous looking boss. There are also moments centred around mini games involving Pong, Space Invaders and Snake. While this variety is rarely found in other games, the issue with this is that you’re bound to run into something you don’t enjoy, due to the sheer number of different types of gameplay.
Another issue I have had with Evoland is in the number of puzzles, particularly in the second game. While many of them are satisfying to work out, I found the sheer volume a little bit tiresome, and they really begin to bog down the otherwise brisk pacing after a while. Maybe that’s just because I’m a little bit stupid. But either way, I could have personally done with a bit less of them.
However, this variance in gameplay isn’t really found in the series’ first instalment, largely due to its brief nature. In contrast, the second game is much longer, more epic and sprawling in nature; much more ambitious. The narrative in the first is completely bog standard, and honestly pretty dull, but the second game’s increased length allows the story a bit more room to breathe. Admittedly, Evoland 2 is still pretty conventional, and somewhat more engaging, but it becomes more and more confusing as you hop between dimensions, before it starts to get somewhat incomprehensible.
Evoland Legendary Edition on Xbox One also features a few distractions on the side, including an interesting card game called Double Twin, various collectables hidden around the world, as well as hidden upgrades including potion ingredients and armour upgrades. You gain experience by killing enemies and progressing the story, with your health and damage receiving boosts as you become powerful. So basically, like every other RPG ever. Standard stuff. The weapon you wield will mostly be a sword over both games, although you can pick up a bow, as well as some throwable bombs to mix up the way you kill enemies.
There’s a clear sense of progression and evolution here with Evoland Legendary Edition, and it’s easy to see how the second game was borne out of the success of the first. It’s this satisfying progression and Shiro Games’ obvious love for their industry that makes Evoland such a wonderful, if at times inconsistent, experience that should be undertaken by Xbox owners.