Less Platformer, More Puzzle
There's a great level of satisfaction in sinking your teeth into a gargantuan game. Knowing that you've put 100+ hours into it and that you've barely made a dent on the side quests and stories. These kinds of games get touted for how much worth you derive from time spent in the world. That doesn't always have to be the case, especially with indie titles. A 4-hour experience can be more than enough for a lot of games as long as what it has gets well polished. A concrete message, interesting gameplay, and an intriguing story. It's in this way with Evan's Remains that developer Matias Schmied is able to deliver a small game that attempts to deliver on the impact of a larger release.
Evan's Remains follows Dysis, a young woman who has been sent to a previously unknown island by their employer Up-Bring to attempt to find recluse prodigy, Evan. We find out early on that while accepting the job there's a lot that Dysis still doesn't know. Why does Up-Bring want Evan found, and what Evan has to do with this mysterious island? The story does well to immediately catch up the player to what Dysis knows, even if that isn't saying much. With each revelation about the island or its secrets the player is now learning about the world with Dysis and not just through her.
Large stone monoliths fill the island, each one serving as a puzzle. They look hundreds of years old but also incorporate sci-fi technology like teleportation. Knowing how intelligent Evan is, Dysis believes that completing these puzzles will lead her to him. These monoliths are also what comprised the core gameplay of Evan's Remains.
Dysis isn't the only one on that believes the monoliths serve some greater purpose, shortly after arriving on the island you run into Clover. He explains that there are legends of an 'artifact' that will grant someone eternal life on the island. Each of these monoliths is a hieroglyph of sorts and by deciphering them he'll learn where to get the artifact. Dysis after Evan and Clover after the artifact while separate goals the paths are common so they decide to adventure to all of the Monolith together. While both characters approach life in different ways, Dysis for material gain and Clover to save another, they're able to understand each others motive.
From the onset of Evan's Remains, the story looks seems simple but as monoliths get discovered and secrets are revealed it strays further from the norm. Some of the big plot points you'll see coming a mile off, but the way those points get implemented is completely new. While the game begins with questions of mystery, it ends with questions of morality. Is it ok to lie to someone to make them happy?
When not watching the discussions between Dysis and Clover players solve platforming puzzles. Each monolith Clover investigates is an elaborate puzzle. Dysis needs to ascend above the blue pillar on the right of the screen. She'll need to use different steps and mechanisms to reach her goal. The biggest mechanic of each puzzle is the way that the platforms cycle in and out from the wall. Blocks with turn over hourglass symbols alternate platforms in and out of the wall, but jumping off a platform will cause it to regress. You can use the ability to force swap wall pieces to ensure that any block in your way is in the wall while all those required to achieve your goal are ready for you. You need to plan each jump you make as a misstep might mean having to set up the solution again.
Evan's Remains does a fantastic job as "show not tell." There are no mechanic tutorials, but with no fail state, you can learn by doing. There's no fear of loss of progress. New mechanics get introduced and combined together as you progress. This design decision means that game flow is never broken for the players to get told how to play the game. While at the start of the game you only have the ability to alternate tiles you'll end up bouncing off them, moving tiles along tracks, and teleporting between them.
Some of the puzzles can get pretty complex, but at no point did it feel like there were any 'hard' puzzles. After playing through a lot of the game it felt like the game was building towards some truly difficult puzzles but then Evan's Remains came to an end instead. The lack of any real challenge is also made even more aware that there only seems to be about 30 puzzles in the game. It's great for a game to not overstay its welcome, but Evan's Remains left more to be desired.
Even if you're clearing the puzzles with ease, Evan's Remains' art style shows off the best of pixel animation. From fluid character movement watching Dysis kick up sand to the emotion that Schmied is able to deliver in the portrait artwork Evan's Remains is incredibly realistic. Past the island beaches, you'll see other fantastic locations like moonlight drenched forests, mechanical structures of what seems to be a water treatment plant, and a sunny field filled with flowers. Traversing through the different regions of the game rewards the players with these beautiful sights.
Evan's Remains was a truly bite-sized experience. While it clocked in at under 3 hours it was time well spent. Meeting the characters of Dysis and Clover, discovering the world and purpose of the island, and viewing the beautiful sights. Like any good story or game, at it's close it left me wanting to know more. Not all the story threads are neatly wrapped up leaving an impression on the player and staying with them as they move on to their next adventure. It might not become anyone's favorite game, but for something to consume in an afternoon, I'd recommend this game to anyone.
TechRaptor reviewed Evan's Remains on Xbox One with a copy provided by the publisher.
- Enjoyable Gameplay...
- Unexpected Storytelling
- Beautiful Pixel Art
- ...but Not Enough Challenge
- Needs More Puzzles