Evoland is the kind of game that wishes to be endearing to the nostalgic. It’s a look way back at the history of the action/adventure genre, covering ground from Zelda to Diablo, thrown in with an assortment of Final Fantasy in between. Exploration uncovers gaming refinements and jokes poking fun at the cliches of yesteryear. There’s a lot of heart in this, which makes it even sadder to see it crippled by the shortcomings of the genres it attempts to emulate, along with some personal faults of its own.
It all begins with a hero moving to the right. He has no choice as the left button had not been discovered. Like DLC Quest before it, everything must be unlocked individually, down to basic control functions. The main difference here is that the acquisition of music, the upgrading from monochrome to color, the addition of story all exists to celebrate the changes and additions that occurred over time.
There are two main styles of gameplay: one that mimics Link’s classic 2D adventures, the other consists of random turn-based battles. The Zelda mimicry is the more entertaining of the two, and also the one that contains the majority of the interesting unlocks. It’s in this setting that you’ll slice and dice through an assortment of bats, skeletons and goomba-esque zoombas.
It also features the cleverest elements of game design. One middle dungeon contains a wide variety of puzzle rooms and combat rooms, complete with a boss that cannot be beaten by merely mashing attack. A later area features a common idea, shooting arrows through flames to light things on fire, and makes it unique to Evoland, by having you switch back and forth between 3D and 2D movement in order to proceed.
Exploration is also an entertaining aspect, whether you’re running around the Zelda-esque dungeons or slogging through turn-based battles. The land is filled with treasure chests scattered in nearly every direction, some hidden and some not. It’s always interesting to see what’s contained inside, even if it turns out to be another hidden star or card to use in the mini-game resembling Final Fantasy 8‘s Triple Triad.
The core problems almost entirely belong to the turn-based side of the equation. While there’s some fun to be had in these classic fights, there’s no fun when you’re tossed into one every few steps. Crossing from one side of the map to the other is a painful slog, especially before you discover the mini-map and have no way of telling in which direction you’re supposed to go.
For some reason the inventory you’re given is useless, too. You can look at what you’re carrying but you can’t use anything, meaning that if you need to heal yourself you can only do so in a battle. There’s a leveling system that eventually is unlocked, complete with experience gains, but you can’t see how much experience is needed to get to the next level.
Attach a short, and highly underdeveloped, sequence that feels like a bad Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance clone and the major design fault is obvious: it tries to do too much in such a small amount of time. Evoland is a small game, but if there’s anything it could have learned from the big titles it draws inspiration from is that it should have picked one style of gameplay and fleshed it out. Instead there’s several subpar reflections of olden styles, painted in a fresh coat of nostalgia.