Open the Doorway Into Wonder
It’s always a challenge conveying why I love indies so much. Especially compared to AAA titles, which are much more adept at displaying clear quantities that are popular, like graphic fidelity. But indies are so much more to me than just an aggregate of graphics and music. They grab you in a way that sometimes defies explanation, which brings us to today’s review of Everhood. At first, I struggled with conveying my profound feelings, and then it hit me. Everhood is my Undertale. Now, that isn’t to say I necessarily adore Undertale. But when it was released, everybody and their brother proclaimed it to be the indie all indie fans should love. While I never got grabbed by that game, Everhood grabbed me hard and refused to let go.
Just Be a Fun Guy with the Fungi
The story starts with a choice. To enter the realm of Everhood, you have to relinquish your humanity. I tried refusing, and all that accomplished was taking me back to the start screen. So I took a chance and was drawn into a strange and wonderful world. Everhood is filled with wooden dolls, gnomes, vampires, trolls, goblins, and all manner of talking inanimate objects. My personal favorites are the many save lanterns strewn throughout the game. Sure they can save your progress, but they’d rather engage you in friendly conversation. This is a very unique yet oddly familiar world. It’s clear to me many classics inspired developer Foreign Gnomes in making this game. And that’s totally fine since, despite some nods to games like Super Mario RPG and Mario Kart, this is very much its own experience.
Zigg Has Some Sweet Moves
After you arrive in Everhood, a blue thief steals one of your arms and runs off. See, that wooden doll I referred to earlier is who you’ll be playing. They go by Red, and they never speak once in the game. That lets you fill the character with your own aspirations and feelings, which is a smart tactic. It let me take what I could from the adventure instead of forcing a viewpoint on me, which is important since there’s more than one way to play the game. At first, all Red can do is jump and move to avoid musical notes in battles. Your goal is to wear down your opponent, so they eventually give up. Later on, you’re presented with the opportunity to mix things up and instead deflect notes back at your foes. This choice isn’t mandated, but picking it dramatically alters the course of the game. I personally went that route, but it’s nice that there are other options for subsequent playthroughs. Not to mention, there are also multiple endings in the game, though I only experienced the one.
Don’t Mind the Restless Spirits…
The story mostly revolves around getting your lost arm back, but it’s just as much a vehicle to present this fascinating world. Everhood is packed to the brim with immortal beings. Living forever can get dull, so they do all sorts of crazy things to entertain themselves. It’s also a world of fantasy, populated with knights and mages, not to mention a money-grubbing pig overlord. There’s even one entertaining section where Red can join a D&D campaign and gets a sword to battle with. Note this isn’t the optional section I was referring to earlier; that comes later. However, one of the best things about the adventure is that you choose the order you experience the game in. Early on, you reach a cosmic hub filled with talking, and frankly sassy, doors. You’re allowed to open them in any order, though there are some quests you can only fulfill with the proper items in hand. The structure is both linear yet not. This let me wander about, wide-eyed and full of wonder. Sure, my goal was to get my arm back, but the destination is only one part of the journey. It’s far more important how you get there.
Besides wandering about, talking to strange creatures, and collecting items for quests, a big part of Everhood is the musical battles. Once they start, you have to survive until the end of the music while avoiding the notes. That might sound easy, but these can get surprisingly intense. There’s a variety of notes that can be sent your way. Some are regular-sized, others have vertical shields to prevent jumping over them, and some are wide bands. There are even notes that wiggle around drunkenly and whole columns of angry music. Even though the music battles’ basic structure is pretty consistent, Everhood keeps finding unique and fun ways to mix things up. I won’t ruin some of the more insane battles, but I will say this. Watch out whenever you hear maniacal giggling before a battle starts. That means things are about to get real.
What a Chatty Reflection
While Everhood suggests you play it on Hard, you’re allowed to choose any difficulty you want. The only real change is how quickly Red recovers health. The patterns of notes flying at you remain unchanged. Basically, after you take damage, you can heal by avoiding taking subsequent damage for a period of time. The higher the difficulty, the longer that period is. So on easy, you’ll heal quite rapidly. This was a good choice, since it made it possible for me to tweak the game while still facing legitimate challenges. And even on Easy, this isn’t that easy of a game. It requires you to pay attention to the note patterns and react quickly. Thankfully, you can always retry any song on an easier difficulty if you fail. Plus, the really long songs come with checkpoints, so you don’t have to start them over from the beginning when things go wrong.
They’re Taking a Left Turn!
Though the majority of the game revolves around these battles, you’ll also face other diversions. One area has you calmly walking while avoiding bullet hell spewed by a cyborg; another has you riding a go-kart; one area features a ton of deathtraps you have to avoid to the rhythm; and a hideous arachnid menace guards even a maze. The point being, Everhood is full of fun surprises. I honestly never knew what to expect next, and that’s one of the game’s biggest strengths.
Minimalist Yet Beautiful
Now, none of what I’ve been talking about would matter if the game wasn’t fun. But it’s gloriously entertaining. A large part of that is thanks to the epic music found therein. There are more varieties present than I can even name, but every song is wonderful, albeit most are short. You never know what music you’ll be facing, and often the game likes to play with your expectations. Case in point, there’s a character named Rasta Beast. So I anticipated slow, groovy melodies from him. Instead, I got heavy metal mayhem, complete with flames in the background. I love the music in Everhood, and it helped me reach a chiptune state of zen. Though the artistry is more mixed, I still rather liked it. They make great use of negative space and fill it in with bold sketches of brightly colored lines. Basically, you always want to follow the road in front of you, but there’s also plenty of clever hidden nooks and crannies. While it might visually mimic something from the SNES era, I nevertheless found Everhood beautiful and captivating.
Bad Robot (& Mad Scientist)
Though I loved nearly every part of this quirky little game, there’s one area it’s still a bit rough. That’s in the translation. Now, it’s not bad enough that I couldn’t parse what was happening, nor was it ubiquitous. It’s just clear that the developers don’t speak English as a first language. And that’s okay. I just wish they had gotten better translators to polish one rough edge of this otherwise pristine experience. The only other small nitpick I have is Everhood has very long load times, usually around 10 seconds. Other than that, I have no real complaints.
An Ineffable and Must Own Adventure
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I took Everhood for review. Now that I’ve beaten the game once and touched upon New Game+, all I can say is this is my favorite 2021 indie so far. And I strongly think it will take something incredible to dethrone it from that position. Not only does it feature amazing music, but it also has evocative artwork and a compelling plot about mortality and human choice. If it helps, don’t think of this as an indie. Think of it as required gaming for anyone that enjoys video games.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: Switch (reviewed), PC; Publisher: Foreign Gnomes; Developer: Foreign Gnomes; Players: 1; Released: March 4, 2021; ESRB: Everyone 10+, Fantasy Violence; MSRP: $14.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.