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Mini-Review: Evan's Remains

Evan's RemainsWhen a genius inventor named Evan Goldstein disappears, his last supposed location is on a mysterious island.  Years later, a letter arrives asking that a girl named Dysis go to the island and find him.  That's about where things are when we pick up the plot of Evan's Remains, a new indie game developed by Matías Schmied for the Sony PlayStation 4, Microsoft Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC.  The publisher, Whitethorn Digital, offered me a free download of the game to check it out, and since I'm a fan of side-scrolling puzzle platformer adventures, I eagerly accepted.  What I got in the end wasn't what I expected at all and I'm left wondering if perhaps this is one of those games that just isn't for me.

Evan's RemainsThe setup is straightforward enough: there's a guy missing, and you must go find him by solving puzzle rooms in which platforms move in and out of the stone backdrop when triggered by switches.  Jump off a block and it slides back into the background.  Jump on a switch block to move the receded blocks back out into the foreground and slide their counterparts into the background.  The goal is to climb up the block formations to gain enough height to jump over the tall column on the right side of the screen which is the exit point of the puzzle.  Eventually there are teleport blocks, bounce blocks, and other new gimmicks mixed into the formula to keep things fresh. If a puzzle is too difficult to solve, each one can be skipped from the Pause menu without any penalty (I only skipped three).  The game is gorgeous to see in motion with its fluid 2D character animation and lushly colored backgrounds.

What I didn't realize at the time is that while there are puzzle platformer levels, the game is more of a visual novel.  For each puzzle I solved, I watched the story progress through several minutes of text boxes as characters meet, discuss the situation, and agree to meet up later after the next puzzle.  I did much more reading in Evan's Remains than I did jumping from block to block, and as the story unfolded with frequent flashbacks, plot twists, and characters revealing alternate identities, I started to feel misled about what the game actually was.   Imagine playing a level of, say, Tetris where after you clear ten lines, there's five minutes of dialogue exchanged between the tetrads.  There's elements of a great game in here with the puzzle platforming, but it really feels like it was shoehorned into the narrative to justify being a video game instead of just a visual novel that you advance with the X button.  Like the puzzles, the dialogue scenes can be skipped (fast-forwarded, technically) from the Pause menu too.  If you really wanted to, you could skip over the entire game one section at a time.

Evan's RemainsEvan's Remains hands out trophies/achievements like candy, and while everyone has their own opinion about how important those are, I enjoy earning them, so when I finished the game just two trophies shy of the platinum, I looked up online what I had missed so I could backtrack and earn them.  It turns out those two trophies are the only ones that are possible to miss while playing, and neither of their solutions are hinted at in the game at all.  One of them requires backtracking to a previously completed puzzle immediately after completing it and reading the dialogue scene that follows it, quitting the game on that screen, and then restarting from the last save point.  There is no reason to backtrack to any other puzzle (in fact, for the other puzzles save this one, you cannot backtrack), so I'm at a loss why I would be expected to realize that this was the solution (not to mention quitting and restarting).  The other trophy is earned by watching a specific dialogue scene about halfway through the game with the game's language set to Spanish.  Again, this is not hinted at in the game at all. 

Perhaps it would all be worth it if the story was engaging, and while I did finish the game and saw it all, the whole thing left me with a "Huh?" factor at the end, although I believe I understand what happened.  My "Huh?" is more that I don't understand why the characters behaved as they did and not that I don't follow what they did.  Without spoiling anything specific, I'll say that nobody in this game is who they seem, everyone is guarding a secret, and everyone is lying to someone else.  There are twists seemingly just for the sake of twists; explanations of what is going on here are lies told to you, the player, to the extent that it feels like the game is approaching you in bad faith; and by the time the pirate shows up out of nowhere at the very end, I was just done with it.  I'm the first to admit that with most games that are artistic expressions first and games second such as Flower or Journey, I don't necessarily get it, and perhaps Evan's Remains is one of those games that I'm just not going to understand.  Perhaps you will.