A game that leads you through the history and tropes of classic RPGs. A promising concept on paper, but in execution?

“You discovered 16bit music”, and a stark contrast hits my ears. The bleepy melody from before gets replaced by music with distinguishable instruments. Jumps like these are the key moments in Evoland.

In Evoland you start in a typical monochromatic top-down RPG like Mystic Quest. By opening chests you unlock more and more historical steps for the genre: smooth scrolling, color, music and sound, a save-system, and so on. It is a very alluring and interesting concept, that caught my eye immediately.

The execution however does that concept not even near justice - it is little more than a proof of concept. Evoland rushes the player through the first important steps for games like this, you haste from chest to chest in a few seconds. What gameplay implications things like screen scrolling or real smooth scrolling for games like Zelda had, is never explained or even hinted at. Neither is the potential of more background info to learn something from it. A game that makes the technological evolution of games its main feature, Evoland completely lacks in explaining how and why these leaps in technology came to be. It would have been the best to insert at least when that technology first appeared, when the first game with 16 colors came out, what name it had and so on. It would give the player the opportunity to learn something, to see how much time has passed between these steps and to cherish the nostalgia in away that would do it some justice.

No, instead the rushed tempo without any explanation sets the pacing - the urge to find the next chest, the next feature as soon as possible, skipping through lackluster self-referential dialogue and texts. Soon battle systems, Inns, item shops, towns and other genre conventions are thrown at the player - but in such a loveless way that it just makes the game feel rushed and unimaginative. Where is the context? How does this journey through gaming history gets implemented in the game's story? Not at all. There is a rudimentary plot that's a direct hit at the usual save-the-world-storyline. Nothing more.

Remember The Lego Movie? How brilliantly it brought the medium of Lego into the narrative and made building the major plot-points themselves? That was brilliant. Remember how in Wreck-it Ralph, video game conventions were used in the story? To motivate the characters and give their actions depth? The same could have been done in Evoland, using the technological leaps and genre-tropes in a self-referential way, sure, but with wit and heart.

I understand that the main concept of Evoland was conceived in an short Game Jam event and as a product of that, it is great. I just wished that the developers would have gone the full mile and make something truly remarkable, something that takes the player on a nostalgia trip that makes you really wonder what amazing steps gaming has taken in the last few decades. The way Evoland turned out in the end just seems to use the technological advances as a gameplay gimmick, thus ending up as a big pile of lost potential.