When you first start playing Evoland, it doesn't look all that impressive. The pixelated visuals are lacking in color, and there isn't even any sound — it's like an original GameBoy game blown up to the size of your monitor. But as you play, you'll not only unlock new items and abilities like in most games, but also new features that bring Evoland closer to the present. Essentially you're playing through the modern history of games, going from an 8-bit black-and-white world all the way to detailed 3D — you'll even have to unlock modern conveniences like the ability to save.
Evoland started its life at the Ludum Dare game jam, an online contest where developers attempt to build a game around a particular theme in just 48 hours. For Ludum Dare 24 that theme was evolution. "Instead of doing a game where players can make things evolve, we thought that having the game itself evolve as you played would be a far more original approach," Shiro Games CEO Sebastien Vidal explains. The original browser version of Evoland racked up more than 300,000 plays in just a few months. That success led the team at Shiro to realize that they might have an idea worth fleshing out into something bigger.
The game doesn't cover the entirety of gaming history, but instead focuses on just a few types of experiences, mostly role playing games. You'll find elements pulled from series like Final Fantasy, The Legend of Zelda, and even a bit of Diablo. This means that not only does the look and feel of the game change as you progress, but the gameplay changes as well. Combat shifts back and forth between real time and turn-based, for instance, and you'll be exploring both puzzle-filled dungeons and maps littered with random battles.
The game never matches its inspirations in terms of design — don't expect Zelda quality puzzles, for example — but it captures their feel surprisingly well. There are also some particularly clever sections towards the end that have you moving back and forth between 2D and 3D to solve puzzles. The team wanted to include other genres, like tactical RPGs and platform games, but it proved to be too much for a game developed in just four months. "We had already doubled our original dev time," says Vidal, "and we couldn't stretch it indefinitely."
It's clear that 'Evoland' was made by people who really love these games
What really makes the game work is all of the small touches. When you first walk into a shop, for example, you can't actually do anything until you unlock the shopkeeper. You'll also come across enemies that feel suspiciously like iconic Super Mario bad guys, and there's even an optional card game that Final Fantasy VIII fans will find familiar. It's clear that Evoland was made by people who really love these games, and if you grew up playing them, it's an incredibly satisfying trip down memory lane. And, thankfully (for those of us who are a little older now), unlike many of the games it emulates, Evoland doesn't require dozens of hours to complete.
"It was like developing several small games."
But while the game doesn't match its inspirations in terms of complexity, developing an experience that spans multiple genres and art styles came with its own set of difficulties. "With Evoland, we had to start over every time we worked on a new genre," says Vidal. "It was like developing several small games with just a bit of content in each, which is very time consuming."
Evoland launched yesterday on Mac and PC, and Shiro is planning to bring the game to iOS devices by the end of the month, which should be a good fit. However, the studio was founded with the goal of building online multiplayer games, so it's unlikely we'll see a sequel anytime soon — Vidal calls Evoland "the exception rather than the rule." Still, he says that the studio enjoyed working on Evoland, so there's always a possibility of revisiting the concept. "Maybe we could reconcile the two in the future," he says.