Review: Evan’s Remains – Quite a Puzzling Tropical Island Vacation Indeed

Evan Goldstein, tech whiz and super-genius extraordinaire, has gone missing. The only clue to his whereabouts are a series of coordinates, pointing to a seemingly deserted island in the middle of the Pacific. A girl named Dysis arrives on the island searching for Evan, only to learn that it is filled with mysterious, puzzling monoliths which she must solve – and that it may not be quite so deserted after all. What happened to Evan? What do the monoliths mean? Could the island possibly hold the secret to immortality? And just who is Clover, the grumpy, mysterious boy who seems to be keeping an eye on Dysis’s every move?

Answer these questions and more in Evan’s Remains, a hybrid platform puzzler and visual novel developed by Mathias Schmied (maitan69) and published by Whitethorn Digital. But beware – the solutions to these mysteries may not quite be what you expected.

Schmied cites classic Japanese graphic adventure games as his inspiration for creating Evan’s Remains – and it definitely shows! Evan’s Remains features a retro pixel art style, a heavy emphasis on dialogue, and an intriguing central mystery. I felt that the art and design choices were overall extremely well made. I loved the combination of the bright, vibrant setting of a tropical paradise island paired with colorfully dressed characters and intriguing ancient monoliths. Each of Evan’s Remains’ areas, ranging from the mysterious abandoned City to the lush Flower Field, truly had a distinctive look and atmosphere. I could look at Evan’s Remains for hours, and my eyes would be happy the entire time.

An early puzzle might look something like this….

However, a game with a heavy focus on puzzle solving and platforming elements cannot survive on aesthetics alone. How does the gameplay of Evan’s Remains measure up? The answer is, in fact, “quite well indeed.” Solving the monolith puzzles involves jumping on platforms which disappear and reappear depending on the order in which they are touched. The player must guide Dysis as she jumps high enough to be able to clear the monolith’s wall and pass on to the next puzzle. As the game progresses, new types of platforms possessing special powers are added. Some teleport Dysis, others move her up and down while still others can reset the puzzle to its original layout if the player finds themselves stuck.

The puzzles were definitely fun to solve, with simple controls (directional keys to move, space to jump) and a fairly gentle difficulty curve. I did struggle with the addition of one special tile – the “charging” tile, which sent Dysis flying at various heights depending on how much “power” was fed to the tile. The game does not explain at all how to charge the tile, and the process is a very non-intuitive one, leaving me frustrated with the first several “charging” puzzles before finally figuring out how to consistently solve them.

These frustrating elements ultimately became less so simply due to how forgiving the game was. None of the stages are timed and, for each and every puzzle, no matter how early or late into the game, there is a “Skip Puzzle” function which allows you to bypass that particular monolith with no penalty. You even get an achievement for doing so – titled “Don’t Push Yourself Too Hard” – to praise your decision rather than punish it. (Similarly, there’s an achievement called “Take Your Time” for spending more than 15 minutes on a puzzle, further reinforcing that you have absolutely no need to rush through the game).

….but the late-game monoliths could get quite head-spinningly complicated

One piece that I did feel the puzzles were missing was the element of actually solving the monoliths. Clover, who essentially serves as the game’s assistant character by providing backstory about the island, reveals early on that each monolith takes the shape of an ancient hieroglyph. Together, the line of puzzles produces a poem sharing the location of the hidden secret to immortality. However, Dysis does not get to do the solving for themselves; rather, Clover shows up every few monoliths to read off his already completed translation. I found that immensely frustrating, and wished that the player could have played a more active role in deciphering the ancient language.

So, the art is gorgeous, the puzzles are fun (if not slightly repetitive, given that each and every one takes on the near-identical “get past the monolith” format)….but any true “graphic adventure” game must also possess an interesting story Players will not wish to continue clicking through seemingly endless text boxes if the story doesn’t catch their attention. Does Evan’s Remains succeed in that regard?

Well, yes and no. The story certainly starts out intriguing, with a mysterious atmosphere that provides only hints as to what might actually be going on. The player is steadily fed information, but much of it raises more questions than it answers. For example, Dysis learns early on from fellow explorer Clover that the long-deserted tropical island is thought to be home to the secret to true eternal life. But why has Evan come to the island? What is the connection between Clover, Evan and Dysis? What is the nature of the secret itself? The player will not learn the answers to any of these questions until the very end of the game, which keeps the mystery engaging and encourages the player to keep moving forward and learning more.

Determined Dysis makes her way through a moonlit city

However, I did find the pacing to be more than a little awkward. Usually, after each monolith, there would be a small bit of dialogue from Dysis, but this was often something inconsequential such as her commenting on the scenery or wondering where Clover had gone. Then, at the end of an area (or, sometimes, smack dab in the middle of one) comes a much longer cutscene, which combine Dysis-Clover interaction, the mysterious doings of a timid explorer called Andre, and Clover’s flashbacks regarding how he gained knowledge of the island in the first place. I would have preferred these overlong cutscenes to have been broken up somewhat, perhaps with a bit happening after each puzzle or two.

While the cutscenes generally felt too long, I did enjoy the dynamic between Dysis and Clover. They make excellent foils to each other, with Clover being pessimistic and downbeat while Dysis is generally energetic and positively believes that together they can both solve the monoliths and locate Evan. Speaking of the titular character, the absent Evan managed to play a role and have a major impact on the story despite not being physically there, as both Dysis and Clover are able to share their memories of him. I was less fond of the fourth major character, Andre, as the bumbling adventure mostly seemed like a somewhat awkward to shoehorn humor into the otherwise touching Dysis-Clover bonding scenes.

But what of the ending? What of the moment when the mystery itself was revealed, and the pieces at last fell into place as perfectly as a solved monolith? The ends up to be one that will cause strong reactions in players. Some will love it, others will hate it. It’s a very emotional conclusion to a story featuring characters which the player has grown to empathize with and truly come to like over the course of their adventures. Developer Mathias Schmied certainly isn’t afraid to make big, daring decisions when it comes to bringing his elaborate story to a conclusion. Twists and secrets abound when the truth behind Evan’s Remains is finally brought to light.

The Flower Field was definitely my favorite of the in-game areas. It just looked so lush and inviting!

Personally, without giving away too much in the way of spoilers, I found myself rather disappointed with the ending. I felt like there were too many twists for the sake of twists, and predicting some of them would have required outside knowledge which players did not necessarily possess. I am personally a fan of “fair” mysteries – stories in which the player/reader is given information throughout the story so that they have a chance of guessing the solution themselves before the characters reveal it. If you’re a “fair” mystery junkie like myself, you may find yourself similarly disappointed with the ending of Evan’s Remains.

Fans of puzzles, platformers and traditional Japanese graphic adventures might find a lot to enjoy in Evan’s Remains. However, it is held back by a number of small flaws – pacing, awkward character animations and a twist-filled ending which may not necessarily satisfy. It’s far from a perfect gaming experience. However, the puzzle design and colorful aesthetics of Evan’s Remains can make it quite enjoyable, especially for those who enjoy logic-based puzzling and classic pixel art style.

Kate reviewed Evan’s Remains on Steam with a code provided by the publisher.

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