Indie developers and their games are finally starting to receive the credit and acknowledgment they deserve. With indie leaders like Jonathan Blow appearing at press conferences for one of the “big three,” clearly these designers have captured the interest of those who are in the gaming business for more lucrative purposes. For those not in the know, Ludum Dare is a game developer competition wherein up and coming designers have to craft freeware games catered to a specific theme in 48 hours. Over a thousand games are created every competition, and some of the most entertaining (or at very least thought-provoking) products of each year emerge from this onslaught of code and sleep deprivation. During the 24th Ludum Dare almost a year ago, Nicolas Cannasse created the winning entry, entitled Evoland Classic. Evoland is the commercial fruit of his efforts.
A common criticism of indie games is that they tend to be driven by theme rather than the desire to entertain or weave a compelling tale. The same can be said for Evoland. While fun and technically story-driven, the game serves more as a parody or homage to the evolution of RPGs. The first half of the game is laden with treasure chests that either improve the game’s presentation or grant access to basic mechanics (e.g. monsters and a sword). Combat remains simple throughout, but the nostalgic trip reminded me of just how far we’ve come. Quickly, I realized this game was less about the challenge and precision of my strikes and more about how the developer was going to “wow” me with the next upgrade — until about the halfway mark.
Gameplay consists of two basic functions in terms of combat: action RPG Zelda-esque sword-swinging, and turn-based traditional RPG mechanics à la Final Fantasy. Neither is particularly challenging or engrossing, but the game is both short and clever enough to warrant a full run. Later dungeons include simple puzzles that revolve around switching weapons between sword, bomb, and bow, and a couple furrowed my brows as I attempted to get every collectible in the map. These collectibles exist throughout the game, and almost always require some thought to find. Only a few secrets provoked groans; I quickly found myself in a battle of wits with the designer.
The game lost steam as the commentary whittled down to dungeon references and repeats of old mechanics that served to extend the game’s length and offer little else. Similar pratfalls have been seen in other games that cater to nostalgia that lack substance elsewhere, such as in Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light. If nothing else, this serves to comment that old game design mechanics simply aren’t enough anymore, and consumers’ tastes have evolved. With the foundation of the game relying almost completely on frequent, knowing winks, the muscles quickly tire, resulting in a dull gaze.
Controls remain tight, leaving little room for complaint during the action-oriented parts of the game. In fact, the creators cleverly inserted a more awkward sense of control in one of the towns that served to enhance the experience rather than detract – but I won’t spoil a thing. Graphically, the developers deftly breathed life into pixels, later producing charming, polygonal models during the “enhanced” portions of the game. The music, while forgettable, adequately portrays the feeling of olde, increasing the sense of immersion in the world of decades past.
Evoland has to be appreciated for what it is, which is less “game” and more “journey traveled.” Nostalgia’s a hot selling piece these past few years. Most of these titles fall short of satisfying the average gamer, with entertainment that is tenable only as long as the designers can continue to churn out quality references with little to offer in terms of gameplay or plot. Evoland’s microcosm of gaming history is worth delving into insofar as people are willing to offer coin in return for tricks.