He-Man may have routinely embarrassed his skeletal counterpart on TV, but in my house, the muscly Master of the Universe was more likely to find himself colliding against the neighbor’s brick wall. Perhaps I took pity on incompetent villains who always managed to shoot themselves in the feet at the last minute, or maybe I just thought they looked cooler, but I found myself cheering for the bad guys like they were some kind of slightly maniacal version of Rudy.
It’s kind of hard to root for the bad guys in games unless you’re a fan of the ‘Game Over’ screen, but EvilQuest is the rare game that puts you squarely in the shoes of a detestable and indefensible deviant. It doesn’t merely present the option of being a bastard, it outright demands it, which is a pretty refreshing approach for a game. Unfortunately, like those incompetent 80s cartoon villains, EvilQuest finds a few ways to sabotage itself and derail the fun, but it’s still one of the more impressive indies we’ve seen in a while.
EvilQuest puts you in the role of Galvis, an oddly charismatic warlord whose world domination aspirations and penchant for slaying his own soldiers’ families lands him in prison. While in the slammer, a fellow inmate makes the mistake of telling Galvis about the mythical Chaos Axe, a weapon crafted eons ago that has been locked behind four magical seals. Naturally, this piques Galvis’ interest, and he escapes from jail on a quest to find the axe and murder God.
Anyone who has played A Link to the Past or basically any other 16-bit action RPG, should know what to expect here. There are towns to explore, villagers to talk to, and plenty of dungeons to hack and slash your way through. Some of EvilQuest’s most enjoyable moments come when walking around the towns and seeing how everyone interacts with the nefarious monster. It’s such a strange feeling to walk around like a pariah, and Galvis has plenty of chances to show off why he’s such a miserable scumbag. Engaging in a dialogue sequence could very well lead to the death of whomever you are speaking with, and just about every town has at least one fool who makes the mistake of disagreeing with the irascible tyrant.
It’s a bit of a disappointment that outside the unusual premise, the rest of the game feels a bit like action-RPG-by-numbers. It’s competent, but rather unexciting and has some glaring faults. If you really like action RPGs, you probably won’t notice, but it was really the plot that kept the game moving forward for me. It’s not that the minute-to-minute experience isn’t fun, but just about everything positive I have to say about it can be immediately followed with an elongated “buuuutttt…”
Galvis spends the bulk of the game wading through dungeons killing stuff, and the combat feels just a bit too vanilla. He has a standard attack that charges to shoot projectiles that would make Link envious, and there are a few predictable elemental magic spells. It’s pretty basic, but it’s also the same move-set that games of its ilk have relied upon for years. Those limited moves and spells quickly become tiresome against the legion of enemies the game throws at you. You can literally kill any enemy and walk five feet to the left and turn around and the guy will have reappeared.
I initially felt compelled to hack up as many baddies as possible in order to level up and power up my attack, magic, defense, and hitpoints. Unfortunately, the longer you repeat the pattern, the more it feels as if you’re spinning your wheels in a perpetual case of keeping up with the Joneses. Even though your life bar might grow larger, the damage dealt by enemies seems to accelerate at exactly the same pace. It also doesn’t help that fighting enemies at the end of the game doesn’t feel very different from fighting the ones at the beginning: they can still kill you in 3 hits and they still take 4-5 hits to put down.
Several times I died while meandering through the dungeon, which meant I had to restart the entire dungeon and lost all that theoretically valuable experience. Lots of RPGs suffer from this problem, but it was so depressing and mentally exhausting to replay the same repetitive combat for the sole purpose of getting back those experience points. Since the enemies are largely avoidable, the combat seems almost optional, which made it all too easy to sprint past the mobs when I had to repeat a section. But, doing so robbed me of the experience needed to level at the appropriate rate, so I was stuck grinding.
By the end of the game, the combat had become so tedious that I avoided it entirely and binged on 90 health potions to destroy the various forms of the final boss. Dungeons do have some save points, but they tend to be about as rare as a stormtrooper who can hit the blind side of a wampa, and they tend to be hidden off the obvious path. Why make you work for something that only helps save you from frustration? Also, make sure you buy the warp spell. It will save you from having to re-trace through five levels of a dungeon after killing each boss like I had to.
It might seem like I’m being overly negative about the game (how villainous of me), but many of the complaints could be levied against its peers as well. A few modern sensibilities could have gone a long way. But, if you like old school action RPGs, you’ll probably really enjoy EvilQuest and its novel approach to the genre, even if it’s a few evil henchmen short of the perfect supervillain.
EvilQuest was purchased for $1. You can download a free trial on the Xbox Live Marketplace.