Shiro Games’ catchily titled Evoland 2: A Slight Case of Spacetime Continuum Disorder features a story that not only traverses space and time but also almost every video game genre known to man. Everything from intense and frantic shoot ‘em ups to Professor Layton-style brainteasers are featured in this charming, unique and nostalgic indie RPG that explores the history of the medium.
Released in 2013, the first Evoland is a journey that retraced the history of one video game genre in particular – RPGs. As the game progressed, the setting evolved from a retro 2D landscape to one that was rendered in HD. Evoland was well-received by critics for its innovative concept and references to video game history but faced criticism for its lack of variety and short length. There were also concerns that its original concept of journeying through video game history had potential that was not fully realized.
Upon playing Evoland 2, it’s almost immediately clear that Shiro Games have taken this criticism on board for the sequel. The game presents an engaging and fairly complex plot that focuses on a party of characters as they are warped through time, with a devastating war between humans and demons as the backdrop. The past is portrayed through a retro appearance and soundtrack reminiscent of old 2D Legend of Zelda titles. The future, meanwhile, takes on a glorious and wonderful looking 3D cel-shaded art style.
Despite the more extensive narrative, the backstory and the main characters still feel a bit cliché – although, it can be argued this was done purposively to be reminiscent of old-school RPGs, such as Final Fantasy. The time travelling aspect is really well done, however, and the story features all the mind-bending confusion and complexity that messing with time entails. The ability to explore the world of Evoland 2 as it develops through time provides enough of an incentive to keep playing and ties in well with the title’s ambition to journey through the history of gaming.
As well as a more intriguing and extended story, Evoland 2 features gameplay that is constantly changing and shifting genre from its predominantly RPG setting. One moment you could be platforming your way through the sewers and the next you are fighting an enemy Street Fighter-style (complete with Hadoukens). Every genre from match-3 games to dungeon crawlers are lightly lampooned and poked fun of. One such moment is seen in a stealth segment of the game, when your companion mocks your use of a cardboard box to sneak past prison guards.
Despite the ever-changing graphical style and the gameplay, Evoland 2 rarely feels disconnected or like a series of unconnected mini-games. Instead, the varying genres and styles are threaded together nicely by the time travelling feature. Furthermore, the control scheme and certain game mechanics (such as utilizing your companion’s special move) remain constant no matter what. This means when you are suddenly thrown into a new genre of gameplay, it seldom feels too alien or confusing. In fact, the ever-changing gameplay is a mostly enjoyable endeavour and is well managed here by the developers.
In addition to traversing game genres, Evoland 2 is almost overflowing with referential humour and nods towards gaming history, which can be found weaved into the dialogue, animation and collectibles. For instance, the townsfolk complain about a vandal in green who has been distressing their chickens and smashing their pots. At another point during the game, you are given the choice of a nickname – the options include ‘Super Morio’ and ‘Solid Snail.’
The game not only pokes fun at history, but also culture in general. When you travel into the cel-shaded future, the town is smothered by a thick smog and traders have become the richest and most powerful people in the land – an obvious comment on modern day capitalizm and pollution. You can also expect plenty of references to Western pop culture, from Bill Gates to Rule 34. These references and nods to pop culture maintain a light-hearted and humorous tone that gives Evoland 2 a lot of charm.
There are some frustrations, however. In the first few hours of the game, there is little choice to be had and it feels very linear. When you visit a shop early on in the story, there is only one weapon upgrade and armour item you can purchase. The others are not available until the game says so. For an RPG, this lack of choice feels frustrating – even a couple of ridiculously expensive items to create the illusion of strategic choice would be appreciated. Thankfully, the linear gameplay does improve later on, especially when you begin to travel between different time periods without restriction.
The constantly changing gameplay does have some downsides, too. The vast selection of genres to play through will inevitably mean that there are some segments that are less enjoyable or even frustrating. I personally found the game excelled during the Legend of Zelda-esque dungeon crawling and the puzzles were often well thought out, creative and enjoyable. However, those who dislike platformers for instance will find the trial and error platforming parts frustrating and boring in comparison. Likewise, if you are not a fan of puzzles, you might tear your hair out when you’re asked to solve six Professor Layton-style conundrums.
I get it – the whole point of the game is to journey through video game history and therefore experience all these different genres. As mentioned before, the constantly changing gameplay is also well managed by the developers and maintains high quality throughout. However, that doesn’t stop certain parts from being less enjoyable than others. By the game’s own nature, your enjoyment can feel inconsistent depending on your own preferences.
Despite these concerns, Evoland 2 can still be considered a huge success. By offering more variety in its gameplay and an extended, more in-depth plot, it has improved on its predecessor in almost every way. The time travelling narrative, varying graphic styles and references to video game history give Evoland 2 a humorous, nostalgic and playful tone that makes it stand out from other RPGs. The concept of playing through video game history is also used a lot better here and is achieved in a creative and mostly enjoyable way – even though you will inevitably find some parts less enjoyable than others.
Evoland 2 is a creative and inventive success which improves on the first in every way and accomplishes its mission to explore the history of gaming.