In EvilQuest, take on the role of Galvis -- a dark knight obsessed with ultimate power. Set out on a quest of revenge, destruction and conquest in this exciting retro Action RPG title. Along the way you'll unlock ancient mysteries, discover legendary weapons, relics and magic...and of course kill thousands of those foolish enough to stand in your way!

When Xbox Community Games launched back in November 2008, I expected to be inundated in part by action-adventure games -- namely, Zelda clones. After all, Nintendo's Zelda franchise remains wildly successful, and that style of gameplay appears relatively simple to replicate for an aspiring indie developer. Three plus years later, and I'm surprised this has yet to come to pass. We received the clunky and way too short フェナックむら ものがたり (Fenak Village Story), the tedious and repetitive Wizard's Keep, and more recently the sloppy albeit nice looking Lootfest -- slim pickings to be sure and none quite satisfying what I perceive as an eager market. Enter Chaosoft Games to save the day. Out of nowhere the developer releases EvilQuest, a thorough action-adventure title in its own right and a game which fills this void far better than I could have ever imagined.

EvilQuest puts players in the role of Galvis, a Kratos sort of chap hellbent on seeking revenge and killing all who stand in his way. Having suffered defeat after a previous castle siege and thrown in prison, he wants nothing more to slay the king and the one who betrayed him before giving the world domination thing another try. After a lengthy -- extraordinarily so -- introduction, we pick up with Galvis in jail looking to break out and reclaim his armor and weapons. From there, it's a quest to assemble the legendary Chaos Axe, an ancient weapon broken into four pieces and scattered across the world by God Himself after the demon Tasrael sought to use it to defeat Him. Yes, Galvis is god-hating Kratos without a doubt, though he's less raging avenger and more psychopathic jerk, killing innocents here and there just for fun and relishing on the pain and suffering of others. Bringing about misery to a world and playing the bad guy is certainly an interesting twist to a genre teeming with heroes, and EvilQuest is defiant in taking this unique role seriously, spitting into the face of Cthulhu and anyone expecting a more humorous tone or M. Night Shyamalan twist. The story is fairly well structured and uses a tremendous amount of dialogue to establish the plot, but Galvis is not a sympathetic nor particularly interesting character, and the tremendous efforts to present his story feel wasted as a result. Although there are a few moments of black humor to be found as villagers react to their impending conqueror, for the most part EvilQuest's tale feels more like an obstacle to the real draw of the game.

Any sour notes brought about accompanying a sadistic knight along on his fairly typical fetch quests are immediately remedied by the excellent visuals, tight control, and excellent pacing of the game. EvilQuest is more Crystalis than The Legend of Zelda, an adventure with a focus on charged attacks and combat rather than puzzle solving, though there's a fair amount of obstacles to overcome. Most challenges come in the form of needing to obtain some item to bypass a roadblock, such as needing to locate an ice crystal to freeze a waterway blocking entry into the next area. These kinds of quests are common throughout the genre, but I do wish some of them were more thoughtfully implemented, particularly one requiring Galvis to obtain boots to allow him to jump. The player can jump at any time once retrieving the boots, but Galvis is often blocked by invisible walls, the game only allowing him to advance via leaping at predetermined points. It feels like a wasted mechanic, same as with the Shadow magic I began learning during the second half of the game as I could not figure out what it does (I can only assume it's a passive ability; the game doesn't clue the player in on its use and "buzzes" when attempting to cast it). While I wish the game's obstacles were more organic, such as using the Sword of Water to create ice pathways over streams in Crystalis, EvilQuest's rapid pacing keeps the player interested in advancing even if the obstacles themselves aren't terribly fascinating.

Adventure games of this sort are typically on the easy side, being more about puzzle design than action, so incoming players may find it a shock to see just how difficult EvilQuest can be. No amount of leveling up and armor upgrades seems to keep the mighty Galvis from going down just after a couple of hits, so stocking up on healing items is a must. Enemies are constantly regenerating, and many enjoy spamming projectiles of some kind. The last dungeon in particular is crawling with difficult enemies, forcing the great Galvis to spend more time fleeing than engaging them to conserve energy and items for the battles ahead. If basic enemies can fell Galvis so easily, one can only imagine what the game's bosses can do to him. EvilQuest is one tough game, and I cannot stress enough how impossible the Astral Plane will be for the ill prepared player. Money collected from defeated enemies and looted from chests are best served for buying dozens upon dozens of healing herbs and potions at any of the towns scattered throughout the land, because Galvis will need plenty. On the other hand, armor and weapons are easily found in across various dungeons, making them a poor investment. EvilQuest's economy may not be impeccable -- why spend 75 gold on a potion which restores 50 hit points when one can load up on medicinal herbs which heal half the damage but at just 1/3 of the price? -- but the otherwise useless shops and inns help flesh out the game and give it a grander scale as an action-RPG.

The scope of the game is very impressive, the world of EvilQuest feeling far more massive than its three plus hour completion time. The large overworld acts as a sort of hub for the game's numerous dungeons, each catering to its video game cliche and designed accordingly. The sewer from which Galvis begins his escape is suitably built upon claustrophobic stone pathways lining waterways while the large volcano he plunders is wrought of burning rock forming an ever expanding spiral pattern as he strikes onward. The locales may not be of original stock, but much Chaosoft Games invested much care into their design and look to ensure that they help establish the world. EvilQuest's dungeons are mazelike contraptions several floors deep, and their sprawling design would be all the more confusing and dangerous were it not for the game's built-in auto-mapping feature. It's ridiculous how well planned and executed the game is, particularly in light of nailing the little details such as the aforementioned but unexpected map feature or the clean inventory menu with journal keeping. Even with its less than stellar story and questionable difficulty, EvilQuest is a stunning game, moreso considering its the first adventure game effort of mostly just two guys -- Forrest McCorkle and Josh Ferguson -- both credited with programming the game and doing much of the artwork.

It certainly took much longer than I expected for a developer like Chaosoft Games to show up and deliver the goods, but I sure am glad it did. I never thought we'd see a decent Zelda game on XBLIG, and instead we got a pretty great one. More than that, since most people haven't played Crystalis and/or have forgot about it (including, sadly, SNK), this is the closest fans will get to some kind of follow-up. EvilQuest is an absolute steal at 80 points given the length and breadth of the game, one which needs to be played by anyone who enjoys adventure games, and seeing how Nintendo prints money largely on the back of Link, that should be just about everyone.

January 6, 2012
January 4, 2012 | 80 points
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