It can be pleasant to reminisce about the good old days. To listen to songs that are associated with happy memories, or to revisit movies that you loved as a kid. Sometimes, all it takes is a quick glance at an old photograph, or a whiff of a familiar home-cooked dish, to bring memories flooding back. Evoland sets out to overload your nostalgia receptors by hitting you with one familiar element after another, and if you've played the games it's referencing--early Legend of Zelda games, older Final Fantasies, Diablo--you'll certainly find yourself recalling time spent with those games. What Evoland fails to do is to fashion these throwbacks to older games into a game that's worth playing for its own sake. Establishing no unique identity, Evoland is content to just trot out its references and make you think of other games, and that's just not enough.
As its name implies, Evoland's core conceit is that it evolves frequently, particularly in terms of its visuals and gameplay. At the very beginning, its top-down perspective, chunky pixels, and lack of color suggest a Zelda-style action adventure game running on Nintendo's Game Boy. But as you guide your hero around, you open chests that change the gameplay and the world. One bestows the luxury of 16 vibrant colors on the game's graphics; another brings about musical accompaniment; and still another introduces save points.
But though the chests laid out in your path bring new monsters and new weapons (bombs and a bow eventually join the sword you acquire very early on) to the land of Evoland, the gameplay of these sections never advances past offering hack-and-slash combat, environmental exploration, and puzzle-solving of the most rudimentary. It tries to recall games like the original Legend of Zelda, but while it reminds you of that game (provided you once played it), it doesn't have any of Zelda's magic. This basic combat isn't a way for you to overcome dangers in a fascinating world whose landscape you must explore and conquer on your own; it's simply there to remind you of other, better games.
Your journey soon takes you out onto an overworld map, where your travels are frequently interrupted by random encounters. These battles require no thought; you simply select your attack command until all your foes have been defeated. Early on, your hero--named Clink by default--is joined by a woman who is, by default, named Kaeris (do these names sound familiar?). Kaeris enlists your help to recover a crystal and save her village, but don't expect much plot development here. Like everything else about Evoland, the story is as generic as they come; that may make it easier for you to project your memories of whatever games Evoland reminds you of onto the experience of playing it, but it doesn't make Evoland itself any richer. Nor do Kaeris' healing abilities make the turn-based combat any more complex or engaging. The high rate of random encounters is reminiscent of the games Evoland wants to recall, but here, it's only a frustration, reminding you not of how good the games of days gone by were but of why games have largely left this mechanic behind.
Evoland's gameplay draws primarily upon early Zelda and Final Fantasy games--Clink, appropriately, sports a green tunic and spiky blond hair--but it shifts gears slightly for one dungeon, in which monsters attack you in swarms and drop piles of coins, a la Diablo. A character equipment screen mimics those seen in games of Diablo's ilk, but like so many things about Evoland, it's just a halfhearted imitation. Your enemies drop items that you automatically equip, but although their names call to mind the randomly generated loot of many hack-and-slash role-playing games, they're not actually randomly generated, nor do they have any real effect. It's a purely superficial reference that, when coupled with the bare-bones combat in which you can do little but press the attack button until all your enemies are dead, just makes you wish you were playing one of the better games Evoland is referencing.
It takes only a few hours to finish Evoland, but you couldn't call the game too short; because it lacks any soul of its own, its trotting-out of one reference after another grows tired and predictable well before the credits roll. It's possible for games to be all about celebrating other games and yet still be fun and exciting in their own right; Abobo's Big Adventure crammed in more references and gameplay styles than you can count, but used them in a game that you enjoy as much for its frequent surprises and subversions of your memories as you do for its faithful re-creations of aspects of older games. Evoland doesn't try to surprise you, to subvert your expectations, or even to capture what really made the games it's mimicking so great. It sets out only to remind you of earlier games. To that end, it succeeds, but it's hardly the most heroic of undertakings.