Evoland is a love letter to RPGs. Taking in everything from the 8-bit Final Fantasys to Diablo, there is very little the game misses, as it pulls inspiration from every part of the genre's past. It's a fun history lesson that had me constantly trying to guess what game it would pay homage to next.
A trip through RPG history
Starting on a narrow 2D plane on which you can only move left and right, the first thing you have to do in Evoland is collect the ability to move up and down. It’s a tiny thing, but it completely changes the game and perfectly marks the trajectory for the rest of the experience. That is because, unlike most games that just expand and develop a single idea, Evoland is about the evolution of the whole RPG genre where you regularly collecting items that completely alter the way it looks and plays.
Initially the pace of this is incredibly rapid, shifting from black and white to 16 colors right the way up to 3D in less than an hour. Then, however, things hit a conceptual wall and progress starts to slow. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Evoland’s visual progression, with upgrades becoming focused on small effects, such as improved textures, rather than sweeping changes. It's more attractive but less exciting.
Entering a village is a perfect example of how Evoland's core concept can start to wear thin. Each time you go into one of these key areas you have to run around dozens of treasures chests to unlock each person and house. Quite inventive the first time, but by the end of the game the novelty had worn thin.
Warts and all
While the development may slow and become repetitive in places, Evoland's dungeons continue to mix things up. Shifting from the over world map, you are never exactly certain what you will see in each of these one-off areas. Some even introduce entirely new mechanics for a single level, such as a loot-crawling stage that draws heavily from Diablo.
Evoland does not always deliver this variety, however, and it's very frustrating when it retreads previously used elements. The greatest offender here is the overused, simplistic, menu-based combat, which continually slows the pace of play. Place this next to the Zelda-styled puzzle dungeons or the more direct combat sections and you find Evoland starts to feel inconsistent and ill-paced.
This imbalance is a direct issue of the game’s core conceit, but how much it will impact your enjoyment hinges a lot on your own gaming preferences. By revisiting and knowingly poking fun at RPG traits, at times Evoland falls into the trap of making you do things it knows are boring one too many times. And I for one got a little tired of it looking over my shoulder and nudging me while asking "Do you get it?"
A wonderful look back
Do not be put off by my complaints about Evoland because, as a package, the good far outweighs the bad. It is a nostalgic look back for older gamers, and an interesting history lesson for newcomers on one of gaming's most influential genres.