Immortality, Morality, and Dancing

HIGH The combination of profound themes and wacky characters is terrific.

LOW Dodging rhythm-based attacks off-beat is counterintuitive.

WTF Buddha throwing musical notes at me.  

When it comes to music and rhythm games, I generally expect catchy tunes, addicting gameplay, and not much plot, but this is anything but the case with Chris Nordgen and Jordi Roca’s Everhood. When the game’s opening moments asked me to leave my idea of time behind and accept immortality, I knew it would would be a wild ride. While I ultimately had some qualms with its gameplay, Everhood supplies a compelling story that left me both questioning aspects of reality, and yet strangely at peace.

Everhood follows the story of Red, a wooden puppet trying to retrieve his stolen arm from the evil Gold Pig. About fifteen minutes after starting, Red dies after a perilous fight and is reborn into the realm of immortals to continue his quest to reclaim his arm…I think. 

Mechanically, Everhood is a rhythm-based adventure with light RPG elements. While there are some puzzles and exploration, enemy encounters are the main course. Combat revolves around music-based battles where Red must dodge incoming attacks which are coordinated to the beat. These fights are fantastically colorful and frenzied, and enemy sprites are bubbling with personality.

In Everhood’s later stages, endless barrages of notes can rapidly fly at Red, making things quite challenging. Luckily, the player can switch between five different difficulty levels at any time and retry a fight with no penalty. Also, Red later acquires the ability to absorb and reflect incoming attacks, so instead of dodging notes, Red can send enemy attacks back until foes run out of HP. This mechanic certainly makes battles more interesting, especially since simply dodging attacks started to grow stale halfway through.

Though Red is a silent protagonist, Everhood’s lively and witty characters are one of its strongest suits. From a cranky goblin who challenges him on the dance floor, to a pair of slime brothers who sell pieces of wood, each character is unique, memorable, and bubbling with personality, and the game is at its best when it plays into its quirkiness — I loved battling an ATM machine or encountering an evil knight who unexpectedly throws away his sword and fights with smooth jazz.

One of my favorite sections was when all of the characters came together to play an unnamed board game (it’s definitely Dungeons & Dragons.) Red is absorbed into the game and must fight through the dungeon master’s story as it unfolds while the others are complaining that the graphics don’t look good and the story is cliché. While the overarching themes of Everhood are incredibly heavy, the cast of characters don’t take themselves too seriously, and that balance is splendid.

Speaking of heavy themes, Everhood forces the player to decipher meaning for themselves, saying “the truth is in your hands to truly interpret.” Mortality, destiny, good and evil, and what it really means to be a friend are just some of the intricate issues tackled in Everhood. 

I was unable to tear myself away from it due to the cryptic story and message, even though I was often confused as to where I was being led in its early stages — but, I believe that’s Everhood’s intention. Red’s companion, the Blue Thief, at one point notes he doesn’t understand what their purpose is anymore, or why they are on their quest. Nor did I. But, after pushing through that uncertainty and uncovering the events in the land of the immortals, I was floored.

While I found Everhood to be intellectually stimulating, one of the criticisms I had was that although the combat is decent enough, it feels contradictory.

Instead of pressing buttons in time with the music (like most traditional rhythm titles) foes attack on-beat, meaning Red must frequently dodge off-beat. There were many times my body wanted to stay in time with the music, but the notes forced me to defy that impulse. It’s not gamebreaking, but it’s counter-intuitive and not as satisfying as it could be.

Musically, Everhood has two or three fantastic tracks that warranted replays, but aside from those, most of the music isn’t terribly memorable — a issue for a music game.

Also, in an adventure that revolves around profound philosophical questions, the theme of music is not tied to the main plot, making the choice to have music-based combat an odd one. In most rhythm titles, gameplay concepts come first, and then the plot, but it feels the other way around here.

Near the beginning of Red’s adventure, Everhood asks the player if they wish to know the “absolute truth,” which could aid them in their journey, but also hinder their understanding of reality. The player is asked again at the game’s conclusion. I said no both times, but I think Everhood’s message is there are no absolute truths. It’s up to the player to decide what is right, wrong, and what their purpose is, and in doing so, Everhood provides a one-of-a-kind experience.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

— Alex Prakken

Disclosures: This game was developed by Chris Nordgen and Jordi Roca, and published by Foreign Gnomes and Surefire.Games. It is available on PC and Switch. This review copy was obtained from the publisher. The main campaign was completed in 4.5 hours, though there are plenty of secrets to uncover once the story concludes. There is no multiplayer mode.

Parents: This game is rated E +10 and has a descriptor of Fantasy Violence. There is nothing graphic in this game — Red will reflect attacks back at his enemies, but violence here is minimal.

Colorblind Modes: Colorblind Mode and Image Sensitive Mode are available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game is fully subtitled. Though the speed of the text can be changed, the size cannot. The game is music-based, and though one could get away with playing it without sound, that lack of audio input adds another level of difficulty to the combat, making it Partially Accessible.

Remappable Controls: Controls are not remappable, though multiple buttons will prompt Red to perform the same action, so players can choose which setup they like best. The game also has full controller support.

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