Hands On: Evergate is a compelling indie platformer with a unique minimalist hook

I recently attended the 2018 gathering of the Boston Festival of Indie Games (or Boston FIG), a one-day event in which local indie developers can show off their new and upcoming game projects. I saw many different games during my time at the event, but there was one in particular that drew me in and left me wanting more once my time with the demo had concluded. That game was Evergate, an upcoming puzzle-platformer which is being developed by a small four-person studio called Stone Lantern Games.

Into the afterlife

In Evergate, the player assumes the role of a lost soul who yearns to be reunited with their counterpart in the afterlife. Using a simple control scheme and a unique “aim-to-shoot” navigation tool, the player must traverse through immaculately-designed 2D environments and solve puzzles so they can open up gateways leading to the next area. It sounds simple on paper, and it is during the game’s opening moments, but as more complex and challenging mechanics are slowly introduced, Evergate’s true potential blossoms before the player’s eyes.

Many of the game’s puzzles are solved using the previously mentioned aim-to-shoot function. Unlike the aim-and-shoot mechanics found in other platformer games, Evergate’s main navigation tool only activates when the player aligns their aiming reticle with a distant afterlife target (represented by floating boxes that house glowing white orbs). Shooting the afterlife targets on their own does nothing, but if the player lines up their shot so that it first passes through another object, most often a crystal or an enemy, it triggers a unique effect based on the object that was between the player and the target.

When a crystal or enemy is used as the catalyst for an afterlife target shot, it is destroyed in the process. In order to open up a level’s exit gate, all of the available crystals and enemies usually have to be destroyed, but like any good puzzle-platformer, Evergate also often requires that they be destroyed in a certain order or in otherwise unconventional ways based on a specific level’s layout.

For example, one crystal type causes the player to be launched in the opposite direction of the target when destroyed, allowing the player to make long jumps they otherwise couldn’t or reach great heights that would otherwise be inaccessible. Another crystal type causes the afterlife target to switch places with the player, allowing them to create makeshift platforms over bottomless pits or open up blocked off passageways. The demo I played only featured a small handful of such mechanics, and I have no doubt the full game will have a much greater variety.

Since crystals and enemies are destroyed after they’re used as target catalysts, it can admittedly be easy to mess up and leave yourself stranded and unable to progress. Fortunately, Stone Lantern Games implemented a handy feature which allows the player to instantly reset a level by holding down a button, ensuring that there’s no downtime between attempts. This relatively painless penalty for failure allows Evergate to retain its appeal even as more complex mechanics are piled on since it actively encourages players to think on the fly and learn from doing rather than having to constantly pause and reassess their surroundings.

An evolving process

The Boston FIG demo I played ended with something I honestly wasn’t expecting: a boss fight. Using the mechanics I had been slowly mastering, I was tasked with defeating a giant malevolent bird that would start out perched up in the corner of the screen but which would swoop down and instantly annihilate me if I took too long to act. Defeating the bird took more time and effort than I care to admit, but with persistence and a little advice from the Stone Lantern team member who was overseeing my playthrough, I eventually triumphed.

Afterwards, I got to chat with that same team member about what I liked and didn’t like about the demo. I mentioned how I both did and didn’t mind the giant bird constantly swooping in to kill me if I took too long to move. That unforgiving timer mechanic meant I had to act fast (and thus became more prone to make mistakes), but it also wasn’t that huge of a deal since I would just respawn after a second or two.

The team member mentioned they had gotten such feedback before and that they were already considering a tweak where the bird wouldn’t attack you until after you had moved off the boss encounter’s starting platform. I agreed it would be a welcome change, but even if they kept the encounter as is it did little to sully my overall positive impressions of the game.

Great escape

I came away impressed with how smooth and polished Evergate felt even in pre-release demo form, and I was equally impressed with how much excitement and passion the Stone Lantern team showed towards the project. The team’s enthusiasm was hardly surprising given how Evergate is their debut game, but it was still nice to see a small group of folks who genuinely wanted to create something meaningful and good.

Evergate isn’t set to arrive until sometime in early 2019, but if it’s the sort of game you think you might enjoy, you can check out its official Steam page and even add it to your Steam wishlist so that you’ll know exactly when it launches. Stone Lantern Games’ debut title may not reinvent the puzzle-platformer wheel, but in a crowded genre where merely standing out can be its own challenge, Evergate is clearly ahead of the game already.