Shiro Games’ Evoland comes to PCs today as a breath of fresh air. There are many attempts to be comical in the videogames industry, most of which fall into the realm of cheap giggles over gameplay, Evoland however places it’s plentiful supply of in-jokes as it’s core subject matter and builds a familiar gameplay experience around it. Somehow, it manages to pull this off and deliver an enjoyable retro adventure videogame chick full of nods-and-winks to experienced gamers.
The style of Evoland’s introduction will be familiar to any gamer worth their salt: this top down adventure screams The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Though the visual quality is slightly inferior (a purposeful decision on behalf of Shiro Games) the camera, player movement, item collection, enemies and the world itself are all reminiscent of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) classic. And thus we have our first source of humour too: we all know The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, right? We all know that this is the videogame that defined adventure gaming on a generation of console hardware, and we all know the tropes and conventions it established. So let’s pull them apart with a sly grin as we actually enjoy experiencing them all over again.
From this humble beginning, ‘evolving’ from Game Boy green-and-black to 16-bit, from restrictive block movement to overworld maps and from real-time combat to turn-based battles, Evoland plots the progression of adventure/role-playing games (RPGs) through the years. It’s a tongue-in-cheek love letter to the genre, and one which any The Legend of Zelda or Final Fantasy fan will surely revel in. It borrows everyone one of its many mechanics and isn’t ashamed of it; this is in fact Evoland’s rasion d’etre.
New mechanics are typically introduced via unlocking treasure chests, a mechanic in itself that may sound as though it could get rather tiresome very quick. However, this isn’t the case. Each new treasure chest coming into view has you wondering what move will come next: when will I meet a none-player character? When is that jump to 3D? When will I encounter a boss fight? Will I reach the HD era? Such anticipation is built so steadily that you can’t help but feel disappointed when reaching a treasure chest and finding that it contains a new weapon or quest item.
The pace of Evoland is certainly quick; only an hour into the videogame you’ll have had over thirty visual, aural and gameplay design improvements, constantly pulling you forward. It’s a compelling experience as, despite the fact that some liberties have been taken for the sake of entertainment, you always know where Evoland is heading. You know what’s coming next, even if you don’t know when it’s coming.
From a technical standpoint Evoland is rather hard to judge; many of its flaws are intentional and are soon eradicated but the next evolution. Instead, it’s more appropriate to judge the videogame on its artistic merit: a presentation that is simply fantastic. At times comedic and at others heartwarming, Evoland is a videogame that is in no two minds about it’s target audience, and it knows how they’ll react to it’s aesthetic and aural design as they have reacted this way over a thousand times before.
For fans of the adventure and RPG genres, Evoland is a near-essential purchase. From The Legend of Zelda to Final Fantasy, Secret of Mana to Breath of Fire and everything in between, Evoland lovingly references each and every one of the landmark titles offered since the 16-bit era in at least some small way. It’s to those gamers that experienced all of these titles at the height of their popularity that Evoland is presented, and to those gamers it’s a wonderfully light-hearted walk down memory lane.