There’s a character standing alone in a monochrome display. You’re told to move him right, then left. Up, down, all around. Over the course of hours, Evoland introduces you to new features, better graphics and more health as it takes you down a road inspired by twenty-five years of role-playing games. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make for a good game on its own merits.
If you’ve ever played a Zelda, Final Fantasy, or Diablo game growing up, you’ll kinda know what to expect here. Moving up from the Game Boy to the original PlayStation (complete with lengthy CD loading sequences) and beyond, you’re given a taste of every component that made up these games as you unlock chests throughout the world. Unfortunately, as you play through each phase, you’ll notice you’re missing a lot of the gameplay you’re used to, like playing reductive, WarioWare-style versions of your favorite RPGs, minus the fun. Seriously: is it enjoyable to keep redoing an area early on because the game hasn’t introduced multiple bars of health? Is it fun to play this game entirely on the keyboard, utilizing five keys (with no controller support – how ironic!)? Then there are the quirky instances where you wonder if those old games were really this frustrating or if it’s an overlooked design flaw on the game’s behalf.
Since the game spends its duration checking off all the obligatory components of these games you fell in love with, it has no time (with tongue planted firmly in cheek) to give you a reason why you’re doing it. The game doesn’t even dress up why you’re encountering this step-by-step evolution, presenting them with out of place, flat gray status bars. There were so many opportunities to have a truly special and incredible story considering the game’s premise and it’s completely missed here. It’s also ironic that such a big tribute to Japanese RPGs features very little exposition, especially as it enters the Final Fantasy VII realm. (Did I mention your female companion is named Kaeris? Insert laugh track here!) There’s far too much back-and-forth puzzle solving and annoying, perspective-challenged combat to be peddled along on what little narrative you get here.
Evoland is a fine effort at nostalgia and a poor effort at something designed to entertain. There’s a fun card game that you can access for brief pockets of time and the production values are pretty solid. It feels to me that Shiro Games spent a lot of effort steering the boat the wrong way. If this genre was your thing, you might get a kick out of it. (It’s also DRM-free if you get it at GOG.com.) At the same time, you’ll wish you were actually playing those fully-featured games instead of this compromised history course.