The Quest Takes a Walk Through Gaming History with Evoland
In every epic quest, there is a goal--a task the adventurer must accomplish in order for the quest to be fulfilled. As with all great undertakings, the goal does not exist in a vacuum. There is a reason that the task must be accomplished. When the knights of the round table were sent to find the Holy Grail, they were not merely hunting a lost cup. They were sent to find the cup that Jesus Christ drank from at the Last Supper. Without understanding the historical context, the adventurer cannot fully appreciate the gravity of his quest.
There are a lot of ways to explore gaming history
Gaming is a rich culture with an already complex and fascinating history. In the quest to become a gamer, knowing even portions of that history is important to understanding the culture of which I aspire to be a part. There are many different ways to explore gaming history, from books to actually going back and playing the classic games. While I hope at the very least to be able to engage with some of the truly classic vintage games throughout this process, this week's foray was a fun way to see a slice of gaming history through the eyes of game developers.
The game that walks through history
In the midst of the much publicized Steam Greenlight sale a couple of weeks ago, I picked up an indie title from Shiro Games called Evoland. On Steam, Evoland is described as a "journey through the history of action/adventure gaming." In reality, Evoland is a vibrant, witty game that uses gaming history to engage the gamer in a world created by gamers for gamers.
Evoland is loosely based on the Zelda and Final Fantasy franchises. As someone who has played a bit of Zelda, and watched others play Final Fantasy, I definitely appreciated the developer's less than subtle nods to both throughout the game. Specifically, Zelda is reflected throughout, with the character and opening sequences very reminiscent of the black and white, sword and bow Zelda that we all know and love.
The game opens in a black and white, two-dimensional world. Initially, the character has only the ability to move in a single direction. Moving in that direction takes the character (who looks very much like Link) to a chest which opens automatically. The chest grants the character the ability to move in the opposite direction, taking the character to yet another chest. This chest provides even more freedom of movement. As the game continues, the character encounters more and more chests, each granting new and different items, gameplay systems, graphics, and so forth, moving the look and feel of the game forward in time chest by chest. Thus, by simply playing through the game, the player get an interesting look at the evolution of gaming.
Nothing is simply provided to the character in Evoland.
Everything is unlocked, from enemies to weapons to other characters. Even the traps, flying obstacles, and pushable blocks are unlocked by the character's actions. But not everything is granted by way of opening chests. Some aspects of the game are unlocked by completing a particular task, or perhaps just because the developers thought it would be a good idea to add that particular aspect at that particular time.
For example, early in the game the character acquires an inventory. The inventory is originally the classic Zelda inventory consisting of sword, bow, and bomb. But later in the game as the character enters a particular area, the inventory changes to a more contemporary inventory with slots to equip items. The items are automatically equipped and earned by defeating various enemies. The fun part is that the items equipped are intentionally useless.
The combat style also changes depending on where in the world the character finds himself. Initially the combat is much like Zelda: sword versus monsters with the character moving quickly to avoid being hit. But as the game progresses, turn-based combat similar to Final Fantasy is introduced. From that point, the combat style switches back and forth, with some bosses requiring Zelda-type combat, and others fighting turn-based duels.
Evoland contains several similar transitions in style, including one particular area where the player is required to move back and forth between a 3D world and a 2D world in order to complete the assigned task. The game also sets up certain other side quests, such as finding hidden stars or cards for a mini-game. All these varied aspects make for fun and varied gameplay.
Telling the Story
But more engaging for me than the interesting gameplay was the unique voice that the developers at Shiro Games brought to this presentation of gaming history. The game was delivered with a delightful wit that never took itself too seriously and poked fun at the games it was based upon. Yet, throughout the game there is still an air of respect for its predecessors even with all the jabs and parody.
The plot in itself is a wonderful mix of humor, wit, and a deep love for gaming that kept me involved. It uses the classic archetype of the hero and his damsel in distress, but with a twist. Rather than trying to save her, the hero is trying to save her town. Also, this particular distressed damsel wields magic and is vital to the hero's survival as they take on monsters and dungeons together.
Evoland never hides its amusement at some of the more counterintuitive aspects of the games it models itself on. For example, when the character enters the first town, he is unable to talk to anyone because they refuse to speak with a child. Instead, he must find a way to grow up to continue on and enter the main aspects of the plot. The developers make other jabs along the way, including wondering why doors exist at all if you can step on a block and open them and providing items with epic names but no real use.
Not all of the humor is directed at the games that inspired Evoland. At one point, a particular boss begins charging up to deliver what can only be a powerful attack while yelling the word "kamehameha!" While some might find these references off-putting or corny, I thought they played well to the overall sense of fun that permeated the game.
For a Fun Way to Learn Where Gaming has Been, Play Evoland
Evoland provides a great look at a particular piece of gaming and its transition over time. As the character unlocks each new piece of the game, the player learns a bit about how developers through the years have made games more complex and engaging, from adding dimension and texture, to varying combat styles. In essence, Evoland provides the Cliffs Notes to a long, complex tale of gaming's history. The player gets a view of action/adventure gaming that would otherwise require a lot of money and time to fully explore. Of course, such exploration is worth every penny and hour, but sometimes those pennies and hours just are not available.
Though Evoland is in many ways educational, more than anything it is fun. It's a short, simple adventure, with all the elements that we all love about classic action and adventure gaming. The story of gaming is told with a levity that made me often smile to myself and occasionally laugh out loud. All in all, Evoland was an excellent step in the quest to become a gamer.
As always, thanks for stopping by. The quest returns next week with more adventures in becoming a gamer. Don't forget to check out GameWisp!