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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (402)

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The Deep Paths: Labyrin... 3/5
The Vagrant 4/5
Avadon: The Black Fortr... 2/5
Mass Effect 3 3.5/5
Mass Effect 2 3.5/5
Mass Effect 2.5/5
Knightin'+ 3.5/5
Indivisible 3/5
Final Fantasy XIV Onlin... 2/5
A Total War Saga: Troy 3/5
Stardew Valley 3/5
Soulcalibur VI 4.5/5
Owlboy 3/5
Battletech 3/5
Bloodstained: Ritual of... 3/5
The Legend of Zelda: A ... 4/5
Hob 3/5
Assassin's Creed Odyssey 4.5/5
Ittle Dew 2 4.5/5
Luigi's Mansion 3 4/5
Xuan-Yuan Sword: The Ga... 3/5
Star Trek: Bridge Crew 3.5/5
King's Quest: The Compl... 3/5
Strange Brigade 4/5
Metro Exodus 3.5/5

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Evoland 2   PC (Steam) 

A Most Successful Homage    4.5/5 stars

“Evoland 2” is the 2015 sequel to 2013’s “Evoland,” the inaugural development effort by French Indie developer, Shiro Games, which initially started out as a speed-programming challenge during the 2012 Ludum Dare competition. Unlike its predecessor, “Evoland 2” was not part of a contest, but was a concerted effort on the part of Shiro Games to fully realize the rough concepts explored by the first “Evoland.”

Going into “Evoland 2,” I was expecting more of the same: A sort (roughly 5-hour) campaign involving the evolution of videogame design and a tongue-in-cheek look at the roots and branches of the genre family tree. Instead, I was pleased to find not just a simple nostalgia trip or a novelty museum exhibit, but a fully-fleshed-out blending of the RPG and Action/Adventure genres (plus a few others for the laughs) that finally managed to live up to the basic standard of quality set by its many inspirations.

Much like the first “Evoland,” “Evoland 2” pushes the player through various videogame visual styles from the past. There are sprite-based 8-bit and 16-bit styles, as well as a fully polygonal 32-bit style featuring super-deformed characters (no noses, tiny feet, and the women have GIGANTIC thighs), all of which, naturally, look better than most actual games made during their respective heydays. Thanks to the game’s core mechanic, involving time-travel, players will find themselves cycling between these styles repeatedly, with each style representing a specific period of history within the game world. It’s not often that a game manages to tie its visuals to a meaningful part of the gameplay, which makes “Evoland 2” especially impressive.

Audiowise, “Evoland 2” impresses with the high quality of its mostly MIDI-based soundtrack. It’s not a particularly huge or expansive list of music, but it’s all well-done and mostly revolves around a central theme that just so happens to be the main theme from the first “Evoland.” There’s no voiceacting, however, but all of “Evoland 2’s” stylistic inspirations came and went before CD/DVD media really explored just how much more immersive games could be with voiced dialog rather than pure text.

Technically, “Evoland 2” is pretty solid, but suffers from some minor performance issues. Fortunately, the Xinput support issues that plagued the first game have been resolved, and I personally never experienced any major glitches or crashes. However, there is some minor hitching and stuttering in certain areas, and occasionally the load times when transitioning in and out of buildings in the 3D style take longer than they should.

While the original “Evoland” was more or less a mash-up parody of “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time” and “Final Fantasy 7,” starring a hero named Clink (CLoud+lINK), “Evoland 2” tries to distance itself from its roots as a nostalgia-fueled rip-off and tries to be more original. In the process, it lampshades quite a few classic RPG and Action/Adventure tropes, while continuing to channel the spirits of ‘The Legend of Zelda’ and ‘Final Fantasy.’ However, the biggest new (old) inspirations in “Evoland 2” are clearly Squaresoft’s greatest non-‘Final Fantasy’ title, “Chrono Trigger,” and the Metroidvania subgenre of Action/Adventure games.

Our hero is a young man with red hair and goggles slapped on his forehead who awakens in a small village with complete amnesia. The local girl, Fina, who found him unconscious in the nearby forest, offers to keep him company as he retraces his steps in an attempt to recover his memory. However, their short jaunt soon goes sideways when they encounter a group of demons tampering with an ancient ruin, which ends up sending all of them back in time.

What follows is a time-hopping tale of discovery and paradox, where our hero and his growing cadre of companions find themselves at the center of numerous historic events. However, this narrative is no simple retread of “Chrono Trigger” or “Chrono Cross,” but expresses its own unique take on time-travel, which I found to quite interesting and thought-provoking.

A first-time run through the game will last just shy of 30 hours, which is pretty spot-on for how long games sharing “Evoland 2’s” core genre puree should last. Personally, I never found the narrative to drag, and it offers enough novel plot twists that it never felt hackneyed or trite.

“Evoland” introduced us to the history of videogames by gradually expanding the game world with such ambitious developments as the ability to move in multiple directions and see the game world in increasing detail. “Evoland 2” starts with the basic assumption that we already know about all that stuff, and instead incorporates other genres besides RPGs and Action/Adventures as mini-games or sub-sections, with a fairly sizeable amount of Metroidvania-style side-scrolling. There’s a ‘Street Fighter’ inspired boss fight, a ‘Final Fight’ inspired Beat ‘em Up segment, a SHMUP segment (with an optional Bullet Hell bonus mode), a ‘Bejeweled’ tournament, and even a ‘Metal Gear Solid’ inspired Stealth segment, complete with cardboard box. Unfortunately, not all of these genres and subgenres feel ‘at home’ in a game that is ostensibly an RPG:Action/Adventure mash-up, and certain genre minigames (specifically the Beat ‘em Up) feel less polished than the rest of the game.

However, the absolute core gameplay in “Evoland 2” is 90% ‘Legend of Zelda’ style Action/Adventure (indeed, there’s only one RPG section in the entire game this time), with our hero chopping bushes, battling foes from a bird’s-eye perspective, and navigating puzzle-and-trap-filled environments. There are a number of upgrades to be found, however the ‘Zelda’ style sub-weapons from the first game have been replaced with charge attacks performed by the hero’s allies. These charge attacks operate on a shared cooldown, and can be upgraded twice, with a maximum charge attack resulting in a full-screen obliteration of pretty much everything except bosses. Non-fully-charged ally attacks are essential for solving puzzles, with one ally able to smash boulders, one ally able to freeze water, and one ally able to interact with environmental objects from a distance.

“Evoland 2’s” “Chrono Trigger” inspirations manifest in the player’s ability to move the hero and his friends between three different time periods by interacting with certain environmental objects. The ‘Present’ is a 16-bit world, the ‘Past’ is an 8-bit world, and the ‘Future’ is a 32-bit polygonal world, with each era existing roughly 50 years apart. While the world map remains essentially the same during the whole of history, there are numerous events that the party will need to deal with in the correct time period in order to right wrongs and attempt to change history for the better, as the consequences of actions in earlier time periods are immediately visible in later time periods.

In the world of Indie games, you can’t spit without hitting a game inspired by the developer’s favorite titles from their personal past. In this glut of homage titles, it’s rare for a game to actually do its inspirations proud, and even rarer to find one that does so with any sense of originality. “Evoland 2” is one such title. Not only does it mash-up most of the novel genres and subgenres of the gaming Golden Age, but it does so couched in the framework of a compelling original narrative with likeable characters, and uses various visual stylings to great effect. If you only play one retro-inspired throwback game, make sure it’s “Evoland 2.”

Presentation: 4/5
Story: 4.5/5
Gameplay: 4.5/5
Overall (not an average): 4.5/5



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