Evoland 2 - A slight case of missing the point
While aiming to be a game on its own Evoland 2 manages to lose what made its predecessor viable: charm and history.
The original Evoland managed to hit me right where it mattered. It wasn’t the most sophisticated game, nor the most polished, and at 5 hours to 100% achievements certainly not the most filling. It was a little candy made of nostalgia and simplicity. A study in how to take a good idea and not overcomplicate things on your way there. Which is why the idea of a sequel always had a bad aftertaste before even playing it. It’s the Portal problem: no matter how much you manage to polish and spark up on the bigger budgeted sequel, if the original already hit the sweet spot there is no real way to go from there.
Not that Evoland 2 is good at this whole bigger, better, more budget thing. Where Evoland sparked in showcasing the core mechanics of the all-time classics of their respective genres, managing sections of the best of Final Fantasy, Diablo or Zelda as a sort-of museum, Evoland 2 immediately goes for less green pastures. A Final Fantasy 7 mandatory stealth level, Jump n’ Run Zelda 2 platforming, moving statues around in Grids (the statues being mammoths that make annoying sounds when hit does not help) fetch questing in the village, it almost seems laser focused to invoke the less interesting parts of RPG and video game history. No matter which part the game is at, there is one universal constant: clunky. The controls almost universally feel heavy. The tutorial wrest control from you almost instantly, turning the cute sequence from the first one that played with people’s perceptions by selling the ability to turn sideways as a power-up in the tutorial, into a slow agonizing annoyance. As precision platforming in front of instakill lava starts its almost overwhelming how slow and unresponsive everything is.
Sometimes it manages to just be frustrating, like when it uses a slowly charging attack as the mechanic for a shuffle-based move puzzle.
The charm of the first game has universally been replaced by lampshading and referencing in lieu of any form of subtle humor. “A green costume” the game remarks as the protagonist awakens from his bed. A reference to Zelda obviously, cute, but nothing that hasn’t been done both in the first one and just about every other game in the world. It’s like making a silent protagonist joke in 2012 (which the game has plenty of, none of them any good). “Who would ever wear such a ridiculous thing?” is the immediate follow up. The game can’t just reference – it has to beat the joke into ground while it still has a chance of somebody liking it. “You want to wear a cardboard box while sneaking around in this dungeon? Don’t be stupid, nobody would fall for that” is followed up by a sequence demonstrating the cardboard making the stealth section half as hard. “Who would have thought? I guess we have to thank limited AI for that” the game lampshades as the characters throw away the cardboard for no good reason. Joke’s over, the game decrees. The fact that there is an achievement called “Find the lost Wiking”, and don’t worry about it it’s spelled with a W not a V, should say everything one needs to know about how cheap the game is willing to be in the hunt for more nostalgia to mine.
Sometimes it’s almost impossible to tell whether something is a failed reference that was intended to subvert a game trope or just random. The choice system, for example, comes in every few minutes, to ask an asinine Yes or No-question, whose outcome then promptly has no effect on the rest of the game, or gets reversed by the game going “Nope. The right answer here is the other choice. Take that one, trust me.” Sometimes the characters even react as if one had picked the opposite choice. Now who can tell whether this is meta-commentary on the nature of RPG choice systems and how fickle and irrelevant they can be, and it doesn’t quite work or if this is just random “humor”. The game even has the gall to berate you for your choices, after forcing all the choices in said conversation on you, criticizing your negotiation skills.
A lot of reviews have alleged that game gets better after a while, that it opens up once it has gotten its standard RPG story with its boring cast of spunky girl, silent brute etc. on the way. That is sadly not true. Evoland fails at the most basic steps. Like when designing a boss fight based on overwhelming numbers, like a blob or a splitting enemy, maybe don’t have the individual enemies drop large quantities of health.
One of the things people have praised about Evoland 2 was its ability to represent the things its copying at a large scale, like implementing a full Zelda dungeon in isometric view. The problem with this assessment however is one of need. Does the world really need a full Zelda level in this game at this point? What purpose does it serve? I would be the first one to admit that Zelda is always welcome, but I can already just play a full-length Zelda game, or if I only have Steam, play Anodyne.