Wearing your pixelated heart on your sleeve
It’s been ever more common in recent years for games to attempt to sell themselves by tapping into the pixelated hearts of gamers who grew up in the golden days of the 8-bit and 16-bit eras. Eschewing flashy visuals in favor of good old fashioned sprites and and unapologetically simple mechanics, many developers have delivered pale imitations of their sources of inspiration that manage provide the nostalgic aesthetics of yesteryear, yet somehow fail to capture the essence that made those classic games from the late ’80s and early ’90s so great to begin with.
Evoland is one such game that wears its sprite-based heart container on its sleeve. Having released in 2013, Shiro Games’ charming RPG offered an endearing yet slightly schizophrenic package that took us on a tour de force of gaming’s heyday. Now, two years later, the series returns with Evoland 2: A Slight Case of Spacetime Continuum Disorder. This adventure continues to celebrate gaming’s diverse history by throwing players into a wide variety of scenarios and genres while seamlessly progressing through the game’s lengthy story. This time around, the developer has managed to refine their vision to a razor’s edge. Evoland 2 is a whimsical epic that’s bound to tug at the heartstrings of every 30-something who has found comfort basking in the glow of a CRT television as it pumped pure digital bliss from Sega or Nintendo’s 16-bit dream machines.
The story of Evoland 2: A Slight Case of Spacetime Continuum Disorder revolves around Kuro, the story’s requisite amnesiac protagonist who awakens in a small village with no recollection of his past life. After being introduced to Fina, a young woman who has cared for him since being discovered unconscious on the outskirts of town, Kuro sets off on a simple tutorial quest to explore the nearby forest to regain his memories. However, nothing is ever so simple, and the pair are thrust into a journey through time and space in which ultimately the fate of the world hangs in the balance. While filled to the brim with tropes and self-referential humor, this RPG manages to shatter the fourth wall, pulling you in with its exceptionally clever writing, along with a lovable cast of characters with meaningful goals and intertwining histories to explore.
Speaking of history, the main story of Evoland 2 revolves around three different time periods —50 years in the past, the present, and 50 years in the future— each with a distinctly different visual style to set them apart. For example the past is rendered in blocky, 8-bit glory reminiscent of some of the NES’s most memorable adventures, while the present day features a rather handsomely drawn style similar to Square’s iconic Super Nintendo RPG, Chrono Trigger. Lastly, the future goes full 3D, providing visual fidelity that wouldn’t seem so alien on the Sony PlayStation.
While the ever-changing visuals are a clever treat, they are far from the only thing that frequently changes through the course of the adventure. While exploring the world of Evoland 2, Kuro and his friends will run the retro gamut of play styles. Though traditional Zelda-inspired adventuring does take center stage, you’ll throw down in a Street Fighter IV-themed slugfest (hadoukens and all), soar high above the world in a multi-stage bullet hell shooter complete with wild boss encounters, and even take part in a side-scrolling beat-’em-up stage that would make Double Dragon‘s pugilistic brothers Billy and Jimmy Lee proud. Hell, you’ll even blast your way through an entire dungeon that seems lifted from Hudson’s explosive Bomberman series, and these examples are just a few of the standout moments from Evoland 2: A Slight Case of Spacetime Continuum Disorder.
What’s most impressive is that despite the Evoland 2‘s multiple personality disorder, these segments are all surprisingly well executed and add welcome variety to the roughly 20-hour adventure. There are a few mini-games that occasionally start to wear out their welcome, but by and large I found myself eagerly looking forward to experiencing each new nostalgic challenge that Evoland threw my way.
During your quest you’ll usually have a pair of allies at your side. Each of these party members each has their own unique set of abilities that must be utilized to progress through the game’s hostile overworld and numerous dungeons, as well as to discover tucked away collectibles such as hidden stars or cards for the game’s addicting deck-building game. Menos, the party’s resident demon warrior has the ability to smash obstacles that impede your progress. Next up is Velvet, the party’s quirky historian, has the ability to freeze water droplets to form makeshift bridges. Lastly, Fina is able to dash across long distances to slash at vines that bar your progress or wallop distant switches. The light puzzle solving mechanics are welcome and well implemented, rarely feeling like arbitrary padding to prolong the adventure.
Progression is relatively linear during the first half of the game, but once you meet a key character halfway through the adventure things really start to open up as you’re given the opportunity to bend time at your will. This second portion of the quest begins to feel much like the later portions of Square’s Final Fantasy VI as you explore the world with little hand holding as you try to uncover five scattered remnants of an ancient device. This later portion of the game may prove frustrating for those who haven’t experienced the rigors of classic RPGs that seldom prodded you in the right direction as you explore the world, but I found Evoland 2′s latter half to be immensely satisfying.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Evoland 2: A Slight Case of Spacetime Continuum Disorder is that for all of the homages tucked into its package, the game never fails to lose its own sense identity. This is thanks in no small part to Shiro Games’ spectacularly entertaining writing and clever pacing, which manages to keep things fresh before each new mechanic becomes too much of a gimmick. While it’s easy at first glance to discount Evoland 2 as just another entry in the mountain of pretenders to the wannabe 8-bit throne, those who decide to push on will discover an exceptional experience that succeeds in paying tribute to some of yesterday’s most beloved video games while delivering a memorable tale of its own.
Evoland 2: A Slight Case of Spacetime Continuum Disorder may not reinvent the role playing wheel, but it doesn’t really need to. The game serves as an excellent reminder of all of the things that make video games so damn great to begin with. Most importantly, the game is simply a whole lot of fun, providing a sizable quest full of clever twists and turns that will make you want to experience every last second of this journey through time and space. If modern video game conventions have left you longing for simpler times, Evoland 2 has what it takes to make you fall in love with gaming all over again.
Final Verdict: 4.5 / 5
Available on: PC (reviewed), Mac, Linux; Publisher: Shiro Games; Developer: Shiro Games; Players: 1; Released: August 25, 2015 ; MSRP: $19.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Evoland 2: A Slight Case of Spacetime Continuum Disorder provided by the game’s publisher, Shiro Games.