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SummaryA blast from the past
The GoodFull disclosure: I beat the game in 2015, but this review is mostly based on an 2021 replay which was abandoned roughly around the midway mark. I am confident that the points I'll make in this review can be applied to the whole game.
Evoland II's biggest strength is its main gimmick: it includes a variety of mini-games and changing game mechanics. The majority are based on prominent games of the 8-bit and 16-bit console area and are implemented well in both technical and gameplay design. They are not only fun because of the novelty factor and the game never falls into to Retro City Rampage trap of poking fun at old game concepts by being annoying.
RCR was also a bad game because it does not know how to use references: every person you meet and every sentence they say is a stupid reference to old games without any connection to the story. I am happy to report that Evoland II does a much better job: almost every reference has a good in-game justification and they are used sparingly. The premise of the game is based on time travel through three time zones which are represented by three graphical styles: 8-bit, 16-bit and modern 3D. Despite the latter being technically underwhelming, this works very well because you can instantly recognize in which time you are.
The main gameplay loop is satisfying. It features action combat similar to the early Zelda games, although with leveling via experience points, as well as environmental puzzles (switches, using special abilities to remove obstacles) and boss fights. During the second half of the game, you gain the ability to freely travel to the other time zones at fixed points in the game world. Many things you do in a time zone have effects on the others which adds a satisfying layer to the puzzles.
The BadThe high amount of different game mechanics and mini-games means that they are not as polished as if the developer focused on a single genre. That wouldn't be bad in itself, but most sections are way too long: in the end they become boring and repetitive because they lack depth. This approach of game design also leads to some difficulty spikes and the certainty that you will encounter at least one or two sections you'll hate.
Evoland II has a basic time travel plot which only serves the transition between the switching mechanics. This is fine; a game like this does not need a complex story. However, what it needs are either characters which know how to shut up or have something interesting to say. Evoland II fails on both fronts. Don't get me wrong, the humorous references to other games work well, but every time the game wants to convey emotions or deepen the plot it gets pathetic.