After years of only being available on PC and mobile devices, the Evoland series makes a fantastic splash on consoles.
The original Evoland keeps things simple from the start as it allows you to move right but you must open a treasure chest to unlock the ability to move left. More treasure chests will allow you to move up and down, scroll between screens, and add color, sound effects, music, and much more. As you can tell, Evoland is very self-aware or "meta". It knows that it's part of a long lineage of video games that have released over the past handful of decades. While being self-referential isn't the sole reason that Evoland exists, it is a major one. It almost feels like you're playing a game that is about making a game.
Fortunately, Evoland is filled with clever writing that's good for more than a few laughs. Those most familiar with old gaming tropes and stereotypes will have a great time laughing as they reference or poke fun at the days of gaming past. Visually, Evoland goes through several evolutions as you progress. It starts as a colourless and simple top-down pixel adventure but eventually upgrades all the way to 3D models and environments. I was impressed how good everything looked and controlled and it's clear the developers spent a lot of time on each different style to make sure it all felt the same as it went through its transformations.
As for gameplay, Evoland holds its own but doesn't do anything remarkable. It's a blend of a top-down Zelda title with RPG elements and simple turn-based combat similar to old Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy games. It bounces back and forth between the two genres as the overworld areas are filled with turn-based action and dungeons will have you slashing enemies with your sword.
Neither aspect of Evoland's dual styles is fantastic but both work well for what they are. At times, the random encounters for the turn-based segments feel excessive, especially considering most of them only take a couple of turns before you're victorious. Anyway, I've played many tongue-in-cheek and self-referential games over the years but Evoland stands out to me due to its extremely knowledgeable developers. The team who created it have a firm grasp on gaming history and many of its most famous and important games and characters as well as many of gaming's classic quirks and missteps. Evoland can be enjoyed by anyone but to truly get the full experience, you'll want to have a strong familiarity with classic video games.
Evoland 2 is a different beast than its predecessor. While there are still plenty of in-jokes and references to old-school gaming, they aren't the reason for Evoland 2's existence. Instead, Evoland 2 is a much more traditional action RPG with a far more robust and fleshed out story featuring many complex characters and a larger world. You play as Kuro, a young boy who wakes up in a forest with no memory of where he came from. Joined by a local villager named Fina, Kuro sets out to discover who he is and what happened to him. During his adventure, he'll encounter dozens of interesting characters and make a few new friends along the way. The only drawback to this narrative is its tendency for dialogue scenes to be a bit long-winded. It's overly verbose at times and I think the same story and character development could have been achieved just as easily while cutting about a third out of the total dialogue.
Alongside the interesting characters, the world of Evoland 2 plays a significant role in its narrative. The present takes place in the year 999, 50 years after the great war between humans and demons. Thanks to a few powerful Magi ruins, Kuro and his pals can travel to both the past and future to get a firsthand experience of what the world was like during the war as well as what the future of Evoland looks like. The time travel mechanics and the history behind them make for an interesting and expansive sci-fi adventure.
Each time period that you visit is cleverly presented using different artistic styles that correspond to various generations of video game consoles. While in the past, you'll play in a simple pixel art style. The present is also pixelated but with far more detail akin to some of the better-looking SNES games while the future is presented in 3D and is visually similar to a less detailed Wind Waker. You'll spend a significant amount of time in each era while exploring the changing and evolving world.
The turn-based combat from the original Evoland has been stripped away (save for one segment) but a variety of other genres have been added. Top-down action is the predominate play style but you'll also spend time with 2D platforming, turn-based strategy battles, shoot 'em up parts, and even a Bomberman-style segment. These alternative gameplay sections vary from good to excellent and there wasn't a single one that stood out to me as bad or annoying. The developers at Shiro Games have a knack for crafting engrossing gameplay regardless of genre and several of these segments could have easily been fleshed out into full games.
One glaring issue for Evoland Legendary Edition is its occasional glitches. These range from harmless and goofy like the time Fina started speaking French for no reason to rage-inducing and befuddling like crashes during boss fights and graphical hitches that make it impossible to see key characters and objects. This lack of polish is a real downer that hampers two otherwise awesome games.
Evoland and its clever riff on gaming culture and history is perfect for long-time gamers while Evoland 2 is a fantastic RPG that belongs in the top echelon of indie games. However, this bundle is currently held back by bugs that will hopefully be ironed out soon.
- + Tons of incredible genre-swapping gameplay
- + Plenty of clever gaming references
- + Evoland 2's time-traveling narrative is thoroughly engaging and well written
- - Both titles contain frequent glitches
- - Excessive amount of dialogue in Evoland 2