It’s become a bit of a running joke amongst some in how often indie developers and teams opt for pixel-style art in their games. It’s reached the point where whenever a new game with this aesthetic is announced, there’s some group that will complain, “Oh, look, another indie dev using pixels again, how original.”
What I think these people overlook is just how far some developers are pushing this “old-school” style. Using modern technology to craft highly-detailed worlds and shockingly fluid animations far beyond anything the platforms that inspired these games could handle in their heyday.
Sure, we still get some releases that use their pixel style as a selling point, like, “Hey, remember the Super Nintendo?!” But then we also get releases like Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight or Iconoclasts that feel like they’re putting the art first, rather than reveling in the nostalgia.
The game we’re looking at today falls into the latter category, made by a one-man team in Argentina, and featuring a wonderfully attractive and fluid pixel aesthetic that drew me to it the moment I saw the reveal trailer.
Developed by Matías Schmied (maitan69) and published by Whitethorn Digital, Evan’s Remains is set for release on June 11th, 2020, for PC, Switch, PS4, and Xbox One. The PS4 version was played for this review.
Evan’s Remains follows Dysis, a young woman summoned to an uninhabited island by a man named Evan. And that is all I can tell you whilst avoiding spoilers.
This is a story-heavy game…but it’s also a relatively short experience, with my playthrough only lasting a few hours. With such a short runtime, every bit of narrative is put to efficient use, hence why I really can’t divulge more details about the story outside of the basic synopsis without risking revealing something a player may consider spoilery.
What I can say is that this short and efficient runtime feels like it hurts the narrative more than it helps. The plot of Evan’s Remains is a relatively complex one, and the game puts more focus into getting its core story told at the expense of characterization.
The characters here (for the most part) receive just enough development to explain some of the actions they take throughout the game, but I can’t say I ever came to really care about any of them. While I’m not saying I need to know everyone’s age, weight, and favorite food, there’s really only two characters that we learn any history about. By the time I finished the game, I couldn’t tell you much more about Dysis, the main character, than I knew from the opening moments.
Same goes for the development of the world. Whilst the game hints at some world-building in discussions of a corporation Evan worked for, as well as the history of the island itself, none of it scratches much deeper than surface level, if it even gets further acknowledgment at all.
Somehow, though, the core plot of Evan’s Remains still works despite all of these issues, as the background that we do receive is enough. Despite my lack of connection with any of the characters, the direction the story goes here left me legitimately shocked at some moments. As I sit here, nearly a week after completing the game, I’m still trying to process my feelings for the story’s finale.
When you’re not reading through dialogue, Evan’s Remains will be testing your brain with platforming puzzles. The setup is simple: you approach a wall with platforms, and you need to find your way to the top to get over a pillar blocking your path.
There are two key pieces to these puzzles: platforms disappear after you jump off of them, and there are switches that change the state of each platform (appear/disappear) when you jump on them. Simple, but the game gets relatively creative with these mechanics. As the game progresses a few new twists get thrown in, such as teleporting blocks and platforms that can switch between multiple functions.
The puzzles are fun to work through, and I wouldn’t say any of them are particularly difficult; even the ones I was the most “stumped” on only took a few minutes of experimentation to figure out. It feels like Schmied didn’t want to lock players out of story progression if they couldn’t solve a puzzle, so he didn’t go all-out in making them incredibly challenging.
Along those lines, if you do get stuck on a puzzle, there is an option to just skip them and move on with the story. This even gets acknowledged in-game, with multiple characters telling Dysis she can just walk around the puzzles and there’s no need to actually solve them.
I was kind of hoping that finishing the game would unlock some challenging extra puzzles as a kind of bonus. Alas, that was not to be.
Bed of Roses
As I mentioned earlier, I was first drawn to Evan’s Remains after seeing trailers featuring beautifully detailed and fluid pixel-style art. After playing through the entire thing, I can say I was absolutely not disappointed with the final product.
The smooth character movement, the details like reflections in the water and birds flying away if you disturb them, the increasingly beautiful and exotic environments you work your way through, everything in this game is a delight visually.
Musically, Evan’s Remains is a delight as well. The tracks are beautifully ambient, fitting the mysterious nature of the environment and narrative perfectly. Of particular note for me is a track that plays near the endgame, as you’re solving puzzles and receiving plot revelations in a field of flowers.
You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid
Overall, Evan’s Remains is a pretty good package as is, but I feel like it could have been so much more. Perhaps I got my hopes a bit too high from seeing a number of my friends and colleagues gushing about it online.
The story here is intriguing and occasionally shocking, but it isn’t particularly affecting. I’m sure this story would’ve hit me more had Schmied spent more time developing the world and the characters, giving the audience a better chance to connect with them.
As what is apparently his first game, though, what Schmied has crafted is impressive. Evan’s Remains shows he’s got the skill in design and presentation and a solid grasp on storytelling, so I’m looking forward to seeing whatever his next project may be.
Review copy provided by Matías Schmied for PS4. Screenshots taken by reviewer.