It seems like the dream of many small indie studios to suddenly get thrust into the spotlight after years of working and grinding on their projects till they get noticed. I additionally think that having your first ever game get a massive amount of attention before it even gets released must be pretty exciting as well, but I would venture it’s additionally stressful. All eyes have turned to Stone Lantern Games, who brought their project from Kickstarter to fruition and even got attention during the Nintendo Indie Direct that streamed recently. Thankfully, they’ve got Pqube handling some of the publishing, and they’ve naturally generated some buzz due to some aesthetic tenants that a select number of fans are calling “familiar.”
Evergate, a puzzle platformer with a shot of story and intrigue, stars Ki, a fledgling spirit who is trying to get through the Afterlife and onto whatever comes next, which appears to be reincarnation. However, shortly after arriving, something bizarre happens, and it seems that Nightmares have been unleashed upon the Afterlife by a massive, foreboding storm that is terrorising the landscape. Even after correcting the damage, Ki is unable to simply move on. Instead, Ki is dragged into a series of memories, a phenomenon that never happens to souls. Despite the warning, Ki explores the memories, using the power of the Soulflame – both a tool and a weapon of the departed – to understand more about what transpires here. What is the reason for Ki’s delay in moving on, what creates the Storm that torments the dead, and what, specifically, makes up the important facets of what we call life.
Moving into each memory, Ki is then set through getting through a fragment that presents as a sort of obstacle course. Technically, Ki’s only goal is to safely navigate from the beginning of the world to the end, though this is naturally no easy task. In order to do so, Ki must use the Soulflame, which can trigger a variety of effects when passed through different crystals. It can open pathways, create new platforms, and set off some automated actions, among many other things. Ki should be able to use a floaty jump and some very quick, precision work in order to accomplish the goal, but also keep three subgoals in mind: Collection, Destruction, and Timing. Being able to either get all the loose petals, break all the soul crystals, or reach the end gate in a set amount of time will unlock an Essence, one per objective. The Essences, after a certain number, unlock artefacts, which can be equipped for bonuses that will make your journey infinitely easier.
To start with, Evergate looks, from first glance, very much inspired by Ori and the Blind Forest, and maybe there’s a kernel of truth to that. Ki is a delightful, adorable and wistfully sad character who is journeying through a fantastic world that is constantly tinged with melancholy, even when experiencing something inherently joyous in memory. There are elements that both Ori and Evergate share, but I no more consider this to be a copy of the former game than I would think that The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa is a copy of Kunio-Kun. Visually, there is a bit of a comparison, but the gameplay is worlds apart, and therefore not really up for scrutiny. Besides, I personally like seeing more games that have this style of art. Especially if it can run well and bring more to the table which Evergate does.
The level designs of Evergate are fiendishly clever, and it’s very clear that the creative and mathematical minds of Stone Lantern (who are all MIT graduates) were hard at work to craft stages that were beatable without being obvious or easy. The pathways to get to the exit gate are all clear without being crystal, if that makes sense. For example, using some of the propulsion crystals in the first book of Memory, I could supercharge myself like a soul rocket and blast across the upper arc of the screen, missing most of the actual world but reaching the exit gate with something insane like five seconds left on the clock. In other plays, I purposely dragged my feet so that I could work out the perfect Soulflame combination to ricochet between two crystals and nab a petal without hurling myself into the abyss. You learn, very quickly, that you’re unable (most of the time) to accomplish all three objectives at one go, and that’s totally alright. Replay is expected, especially when your death is almost a given (death?). Once you enter the second book of Memories and you get a wrench thrown into your system by the appearance of Nightmares jamming up your progress, the difficulty ramps up considerably. Even more so when you realize that you need to effectively trick the Nightmares into making paths for you, since they apparently can shatter certain blocks and you gotta use yourself as bait to get them to do the work for you.
In fact, Evergate does an excellent job of giving you an introduction to the core concepts of the game (use Soulflame in order to activate stuff) and then sets you adrift, allowing players to figure out exactly how to accomplish everything all by their lonesome. You never get told “this crystal will do this specific action when interacted upon.” You get to see what the difference is, for example, by shooting one purple gem versus two at once, thus making a larger and more stable platform if you can angle things well. The controls initially feel super obtuse and awkward: needing to move with the left stick, jump with B, aim the Soulflame with the right stick and activate said Flame with Y when the time is right. The learning curve here feels steep, but it really comes quite naturally once you get into the swing of things. Which is great, because the experience is naturally rewarding when you get a hang of it and begin to mentally complete puzzles before you see the solution. I saw the path in one stage had a winding effect, so I jumped out into the ether and hooked a platform before I fell too deeply, thus cutting out a whole segment and getting to the exit in plenty of time. Was it intended? Probably. Did I still feel awesome doing it? 100%.
Players will be compelled to keep replaying levels in order to get the objectives complete, but even more when they realize how invaluable the artefacts can be. One of the first artefacts I unlocked became a staple for the remainder of the game, allowing me to fall 65% slower and float to far platforms with ease. Evergate can probably be beaten without the use of artefacts whatsoever, but the versatility of what the artefacts can do (and the fact that you can only equip one at a time, from what I can see) this means that you change and craft the approach based on your own play style. Looking just to complete the game without needing to worry about things? Artefacts have you covered. Want to crank out a speedrun (which the options exist within the game)? Add the double jump artefact and get to hopping, cowboy. Artefacts are hard-fought and hard-earned prizes that don’t always make sense when you get them, but can be pretty damn spiffy. An artefact that makes it so fragile terrain doesn’t break doesn’t seem like much at first, but making it so shifty treetop canopies don’t collapse under your jumps means having a permanent set of ledges that don’t accidentally alert the Nightmares to your presence.
With a beautiful soundtrack that shifts between lighthearted ambience and nerve-wracking tremors of danger, Evergate is a fantastic title that you can get entirely lost within. The levels can be a simple path between unlocking the different memories and seeing the incarnations of Ki, or can be your primary focus, allowing players to reap rewards that go beyond just seeing completion markers. I was utterly enthralled by my own satisfaction with good control and fast muscle reactions, as well as a competently designed, mechanically versatile gamescape. It’s clear that Evergate can be a real winner for the right audience, for those who enjoy potentially frustrating difficulty balanced with delightful visuals and promises of changes in the gaming environment. If you were looking for something that had the difficulty of The End is Nigh, but with a more complex set of ideas (and a significantly better looking world), then I urge you to come venture through the Gate with Ki.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Gameplay - 9/10
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 9/10
Replay Value - 9/10
User Review( votes)
Evergate is fresh with gorgeous design and an engaging soundtrack, perfect to deceive your brain from how amazingly complex this puzzle platformer can be.