Puzzle games can be entertaining on their own, but toss in an intriguing story to drive you and the next thing you know, you're glued to the screen. Evan's Remains was a promising specimen at first, combining the mystery of an enigmatic island and a missing person with challenging platform puzzles. Unfortunately, despite how polished the game looks and feels, it's ultimately quite dull and uninspired after you've completed the same sets of puzzles a few dozen times.
This is a title that could have used a bit more fleshing out in terms of both storytelling and its approach to puzzle-centric gaming. Aesthetically, it's absolutely gorgeous. It's a shame that the rest of the package didn't quite catch up.
Searching for a genius
Evan's Remains follows a woman named Dysis who heads to a tropical island in pursuit of a prodigy named Evan Goldstein. Alongside ally Nikola, who Dysis communicates with via digital device, she scours the island looking for Evan. Instead, she finds a man named Clover Emor at first, who's searching for an artifact that could grant immortality.
Early on, Dysis indicates that she thinks the whole thing is a prank, which Nikola shoots down. As she continues her quest, however, it appears that things just aren't adding up. Where is Evan, and why did he implore Dysis to come and find him? These are the questions that you'll find the answers to as you progress.
The first thing you'll notice about Evan's Remains is that it's a great-looking game with fantastic ambient music. These pixel characters and environments have been painstakingly rendered, and it's clear a lot of work went into making them feel real. Despite my issues with the game as a whole, I certainly can't fault it for having lesser graphics, as these are absoluutely fantastic-looking.
Puzzling it out
As Dysis searches for Evan, you'll discover that the game is split up into two segments: puzzles and story exhibition. This rarely changes, so patience is key if you don't enjoy games with a lot of repetition.
Dysis is typically faced with puzzles that require her to overcome a series of platforms to reach the opposite side of a set of ancient ruins. That's the majority of what you'll be doing throughout the entire game. You always need to jump over the highest platform on the right side of each puzzle, which seems simple at first, but is especially complex as you progress.
You can't simply jump from platform to platform to complete each puzzle, though. Double jumping on some platforms will cause new ones to appear or activate so you can reach additional areas. Sometimes this isn't the only answer, and you need to be creative as new elements are added to the platform puzzles over the course of the game. You may need to evaluate missing pieces to figure out where a new set of steps may appear. Others are only accessible for a short moment as they disappear when you step on them.
Some puzzles aren't especially difficult, while others will have you scratching your head. As inventive as some of them can be, however, these puzzles make up the bulk of the game, and while well-constructed they do tend to get a bit boring after you've completed one, did the obligatory "speak to another character" bit and start a new puzzle straight after that. With that said, the puzzles are creative and fun -- just a little old after the sixth or seventh in a row.
Weaving a tangled web
Since Evan's Remains is part puzzler and part visual novel, its narrative is a major component of the package. Without spoiling too much, I have to say the story is something that turned me off completely. As the tale stretched on, it became less and less like a mystery to solve and more like a needlessly convoluted story that heavily relied on the ol' switcheroo trope.
Over time, you discover critical information about Dysis and Evan (as well as the character Clover and others on the island) that you can piece together to arrive at a conclusion you may have already seen coming. This ending tends to invalidate the struggle you had along the way, rendering your journey and the emotional revelations within moot. There are lies at the center of the story that feel like a stretch, and I have to say finding out exactly what occurred was something that soured the entire story for me.
The way the story plays out, with lengthy expository sequences that feel never-ending at times sandwiched between puzzles, interrupted the game's flow a bit as well. It just isn't entertaining to watch two talking heads exchange lines for what feels like an hour between platform puzzles when the story that's unwinding feels like so much of a letdown.
Evan's Remains is an interesting, yet ultimately dull adventure punctuated by puzzles that never seem to evolve into anything more substantial. It starts out strong, but begins to feel like a slog after you venture through the same puzzles over and over. While the storyline shows promise early on, it ends up being little more than frustrating window dressign with twists that feel a bit cruel after getting you invested.
It's a shame to take great graphics and an interesting premise and ultimately squander them, but that doesn't mean Evan's Remains is absolutely horrible. Given a bit of tweaking it could have been great. As it stands, it's an iniquity you can finish in a couple of hours if you're great at puzzles. Just don't expect to get too engrossed.
This review is based on a PC download code provided by the publisher. Evan's Remains is available now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, PC, and Mac.
- Great pixelated graphics and soundtrack.
- Interesting beginning premise.
- Solid mechanics for puzzling/exploration.
- Puzzles are repetitious.
- Narrative bogs the entire game down.
- Nothing to do in-game beyond experience story and solve puzzles.
- Ultimately forgettable.