Showcasing the evolution of aesthetics while using devolved gameplayon April 18, 2013 at 8:00 am
I’ve said it once before and I’ll say it again; nostalgia is a powerful thing. Retro gaming is expensive and “in”, every Tom, Dick, and Jane has the theme from “Super Mario Bros.” set as their ringtone, and half of the indie scene utilizes pixel art as an attempt to tug on your childhood heartstrings and get you interested in their game.
Well, I think it may be getting old, but that doesn’t mean I necessarily hate it. Nowadays, it just pays to be more discerning about which retro-inspired games you should invest in. After all, we, as gamers, are consumer whores and we certainly whore it up with the best of ‘em when it comes to pixel art.
In this case, “Evoland” takes the idea of nostalgia and adds a bit more flair to it by taking us on a tour through the ages of gaming, and lets us experience its history in a scant few hours. Is it worthy of being our tour guide or would we be better off sightseeing by ourselves?
The premise behind “Evoland” is a fairly unique one. You start off in the era of the Game Boy and progress through the 8-bit and 16-bit eras, then eventually dive into 3D and HD. The look of the game isn’t the only thing that changes, as there is absolutely NOTHING in this game that is given to you from the start. You literally start out with the ability to move right and only right. Each chest you open up also opens up the gameplay and adds more features we take for granted in games, like sound effects, music, and menus; but also more obscure things like parallax scrolling, health bars, cleaner text, ambient lighting, etc.
“Evoland” also provides us access to a wide variety of gameplay styles. At its core, “Evoland” is part RPG and part action/adventure. The game starts off playing like “The Legend of Zelda” but you’ll also take part in turn-based battles like “Final Fantasy”, and, without spoiling too much, come across copies of other famous games, as well. It’s hugely varied but that variety also comes at a price.
See, none of these gameplay styles are done exceptionally well. I mean, they function and serve their purpose, but they’re as basic as basic gets. There is little depth or difficulty, and I hesitate to even say if there is any fun to be had in the gameplay. Well, there is fun here but it doesn’t come from killing enemies or solving puzzles.
Looking at this game as a love letter to gaming past and seeing what “upgrade” you get next are the things that make this game enjoyable. They’re the real meat of this game. The “gameplay” is nothing more than a device to shuffle you about to each new history lesson. If “Evoland” is a sightseeing tour, then the gameplay is just the walk between each building and monument. It serves its purpose but you’re not taking the tour for the exercise.
The real fun of this game comes from the copious amount of changes the game goes through and seeing the world evolve as you play. Also, if you’re a true old school gamer, there is a lot of fun in finding all of the jokes and references strewn about. The game’s two protagonists, Clink and Kaeris, are obvious rip-offs of Cloud and Aeris from “Final Fantasy VII”. Clink even carries around the Buster Sword. Since finding these and seeing them first hand is one of the best parts of the game, I’ll refrain from giving away anymore.
You may think, “Well, why would I want to play this game if the gameplay actually isn’t very good?” Well, the game also isn’t very long, which greatly helps things. You never really spend very much time doing any one thing or being in any one style. That helps the game feel consistently fresh and it is very well-paced. The game can also be cleared in 3-4 hours, with another hour or two tacked on if you want to find all of the hidden stars and cards; so it really is the same length as an actual tour.
Speaking of cards, there is a card-based mini game that is pretty decent. It plays like the Triple Triad card game from “Final Fantasy VIII”, but the randomness of the game and the limited amount you’re actually able to play kind of ruins the potential this mini game had. It’s still nice to see it present.
I think “Evoland” also works as a commentary on modern gaming. As you progress through the game and obtain 3D graphics, the game seemingly becomes clunkier and looks uglier. This is exactly how most primitive 3D games first came off. They were blocky, they were unwieldy, but they were new, so we had to play them.
Modern gaming gives us so much and strives to better itself so fast, that we never really get to properly enjoy what we have for very long. You experience this while playing “Evoland”. As soon as you get color, you get better textures. As soon as you get better textures, you get 16-bit graphics. As soon as you get 16-bit graphics, you’re suddenly given 3D. The game never gives you enough time to enjoy each new look. You’re modernized as quickly as possible.
This drive to constantly improve technology and always have to spend outrageous sums of money developing the hottest new games is slowly crumbling away our consoles and pushing it ever closer to another collapse. That, however, is a topic to delve further into for another time.
“Evoland” is definitely worth playing, even it isn’t a particularly great game. It’s just that the total package ends up being more than the sum of its parts; and the pixel art, jokes, references, and music will all take you back to a time when things were much simpler. If you’re looking for something to make nostalgia boil over, “Evoland” will turn up the heat.