Two Left Feet

It should fall upon deaf ears if Undertale is said to not have influenced a majority of indie developers, establishing itself as the mainstream example of going out of the gaming comfort zone to deliver a one of a kind experience that transcended both worlds of AAA and passion projects.  Over the years since Undertale’s release in 2015 you couldn’t throw a stone down Steam’s chasm and not hit a game that looks or feels like a grandchild in the Toby Fox family tree, and March 4th, 2021 brought the world a new branch of that tree.

Everhood at its most simplistic can be described as a rhythmic melting pot of Undertale and SHMUPs ala Mushihimesama.  A mute, wooden doll dubbed by the name of Red has their arm stolen by a mustached thief in blue.  When Red confronts the thief, a purple pig clad in gold hands him a sentencing to the incinerator.  When death has decided it’s not Red’s time they go on a quest to retrieve their arm and find out along the way what their quest really is.

Right out of the gate, you’re going to be slapped with the patches of other games that Everhood wears on its sleeve.  Take a stroll through the mysterious land, which is only available after accepting a contract of immortality at the start, and the list of familiarities will climb.  Introduced are quirky characters of all shapes and sizes, with shaky text and garbled voices.  Humor that will sometimes hit and will eventually miss.  A wonky mechanic that’ll make much more sense once you put a few hours into the game.

But that wonky mechanic is Everhood’s battle system, and if there’s one good reason to play, it’s to experience the spectacle that has been put together.  Taking pinches of inspiration from games like Guitar Hero, DDR, and Ikaruga, Everhood’s battles are a schizophrenic dance of jumping and dashing against a vibrant onslaught of walls and crescents intent to beat you down.  Controls break down to moving left and right, jumping, and absorbing specific bullets.  It takes less than a minute to learn, but the stages will set the screen ablaze with their hurried pace.

Each of the few dozen characters will send challenging bullet patterns working alongside an sundry soundtrack that swings wildly to different auditory spectrums: from 16bit chiptunes with thundering bass, a Deliverance-style duet, heavy metal riffs, to an absolute acid trip with melting synths and distorted instruments.  Each character brings such an unique vibe to each battle that you’re always on your toes in anticipation of what will come careening down the battlefield, and when the screen stretches and twists clockwise while you’re dodging bullets upside down: you’ll kick yourself for asking.

It’s a blessing and a curse that battles are a majority of Everhood because the rest of the game lags far behind it.  The actual world of Everhood, while shrouded in mystery, is mysteriously terrible looking to its counterpart.  Levels feel weirdly open yet claustrophobic, in that more could have been done with the space given despite there not being much space to begin with.  A few levels are so shrouded in darkness that they look unfinished.  You can tell that the journey was an afterthought, so long as it got you to your battles.

And that journey did not resonate at all here. As I mentioned earlier, throw a stone and you’ll hit an indie title with a quirky fun cast of characters waiting to pull the rug from under your feet when you have to do the thing with the hard consequences and you have that a-ha moment as to why the game felt the need to do this.  I’ll spoil you that Everhood has the moment where you’re tasked to do the thing.

When this thing happens, you’re thrown onto a charcuterie board with a spread of Buddhist ideology, the trials and tribulations of immortality, the concept of eternal time, and the genocidal wishes of a 16-bit animal telling you, “Nah, don’t worry, they want this, they just don’t know it yet.”  It’s, uh, really fucking odd.  And when you spend a few hours rummaging through set pieces intended to make you feel empathy for these characters, it feels a little forced to double your playtime by just making you like Liam Neeson and the residents of Everhood have kidnapped your daughter.

Everhood does little to balance the morality scales and gives a heavily handed nudge to using this newly acquired power, but where’s the internal struggle to go against the wishes of the game?  Why be concerned with anything that’s happened when the game leans so heavily to one side?  At this point you’re picking fights like a bully in middle school not because you want their lunch money or if it’s the right or wrong thing to do: you’re doing it just to see who puts up a good enough fight, and no matter how much self-help talk or ideology is slapped on to justify the actions committed, it softens the blow like a wet spaghetti noodle to the bicep.

So my real moral struggle with Everhood is whether or not to recommend it.  The gameplay is silky smooth and the battle stages are wildly varied and entertaining.  But everything surrounding it is Shōnen Jump quality filler: it probably means a whole lot to the creators and the vision in which they have for their product, but it will be readily skipped for what we are all really here for.

Reviewed on Steam.