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Earnest Evans (Sega CD) artwork

Earnest Evans (Sega CD) review

"The Narcoleptic Misadventures of Schizophrenic Anime Indiana Jones"

Some works accomplish a seemingly impossible balance between elements. Half-Life is a carefully designed linear experience, yet few other games manage to convey a world with such a massive scale. Devil May Cry has a deeply nuanced battle system, but few other games have mechanics so intuitive. Earnest Evans is one of those games, too; somehow it manages to be simultaneously bafflingly bizarre and revoltingly lazy in its design.

In this game, you control the titular narcoleptic, anime Indiana Jones-ripoff. Evans embodies the dreary anime trope of being a good-natured klutz who turns out to be a fighter once he squints his eyes. The game fails to flesh him out in the cutscenes by a surprisingly prolific studio; Mad House obviously was not the same team who drew the likes of Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust and the One Punch Man anime adaptation at this time, for the few cutscenes that aren't just still images over audio are choppy and filled with continuity errors, wildly switching between a host of bad art styles. These unhelpful transitions lead Earnest through indecipherable interpretations of world locations as he seeks some McGuffin.

It takes a lot of careful work to revel in the absurd yet possess a coherent art direction, like Castle Crashers' delightful land of barbarians, beasts, and aliens. "Coherent" and "careful work" are not terms that describe Earnest Evans well. The setting doesn't know if it wants to be a 1920s globetrotting adventure or some weird Castlevania clone, with the first location of the game being a jungle set in... Maine, if the world map is to be believed. All sorts of weird, kooky monsters populate the deserts of China and the temples of South America. "Look at how zany and creative we are!" shrieks Wolf Team as the disconnect grows and the competence in worldbuilding diminishes. Of course, these baffling locales are far preferable to the dull tiles of cityscapes or featureless backgrounds of caverns.

Of course, the presentation as a whole is the least of this flaming disaster's problems.

Yet worse animation than the unremittingly lazy cutscenes and backgrounds is apparent in gameplay, as Earnest's multi-sectioned sprite (think Contra 3 bosses if they were horridly ugly) flails like some sort of alien ragdoll, demonstrating animation that makes bad Adobe Flash presentations on Newgrounds look like Symphony of the Night by comparison. Earnest is similarly bizarre in regards to communicative animations; sometimes taking damage triggers a reaction animation, sometimes it doesn't, with the most out of Earnest being him holding his hand in defense up a little as spikes tear into his flesh. Oh, and there are no invincibility frames, either, so your health just drains without visual indication on the part of Earnest half of the time. All this is not complemented well by the controls.

Earnest Evans is less of a game and more of a challenge to reliably execute any move. Obstensively to dodge the waves of projectiles onscreen, Earnest has a variety of crouch states that he will lock himself into at the slightest whim, especially when doing so will doom you to be hit by a bullet hell. For the uninitiated, bullet hell/danmaku is when a developer hates you so much that they want you to stop playing their game, ensuring you do so by spamming the screen with dozens of projectiles; this is especially bad in a platformer as opposed to a game with unfettered movement onscreen. Most of your deaths in the game will be due to the awful controls or poorly telegraphed attacks, eliminating the value of skill over lucky trial and error. One could argue that the skill ceiling is trying to take advantage of the hilariously bad hit detection, which alone is a testament to the amount of effort put into the game, but it's at least as likely to get you killed. Absolute trash.

The level design perhaps best embodies the game's awful design. At their best, the level layouts themselves are unremarkable, but the typical obstacle is an unfairly placed projectile-firing enemy out of sight or on unavoidable paths. Aside from asinine enemy placement, other outright trollish level designs appear, too, such as obstacles trying to kill you as soon as a level starts or foreground objects and foreground objects obscuring the nonsense onscreen. It says something when stuff like this isn't explicitly the worst part of a game, but it nicely rounds out this cocktail of confusion.

Earnest Evans is an embarrassing production from start to finish. A game with art by Mad House, good music by the great Motoi Sakuraba, and system more powerful than what supported the likes of Super Castlevania IV is hard to ruin this badly, but Wolf Team and company were up to the challenge of making a complete product as bad as their FMV drek. There was probably heart put into this game, but I've learned that the world of art is big enough that there are oceans of products with actual polish that have at least as much heart as the junior league players tripping over their untied shoestrings. The gallery of flaws that Earnest Evans displays should not be accepted as personable eccentricities; they should be recognized as bad design decisions that should never be replicated in any fashion elsewhere.


Follow_Freeman's avatar
Community review by Follow_Freeman (August 04, 2018)

When he isn't in a life-or-death situation, Dr. Freeman enjoys playing a variety of video games. From olden shooters to platformers & action titles: Freeman may be a bit stuck with the games of the past, but he doesn't mind. Some things don't age much.

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zigfried posted August 29, 2018:

It's almost like we disagree about this game. That's okay, I know that popular opinion is on my side ;)

One thing that makes Earnest Evans different from other Wolf Team games -- and most games in general -- is that they actually let the lead programmer direct the game. That remarkable decision guaranteed that Earnest Evans would stand apart from the crowd.

He would later go on to develop Ranger-X, but for some unknown reason, Gau did not let him direct that game.

Rare footage of an early game by the Earnest Evans programmer:
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Follow_Freeman posted August 29, 2018:

Oh, cool, Ranger-X is great, even if the whole six-button thing takes getting used to. And don't worry about my contrarianism, I just figured it was time for a change of pace after all those 5/5 reviews I made, and I have my picky tastes, too, although I hope I made compelling cases in their own right. I'm surely not one to diminish anyone else's enjoyment of a work, though I think that my making a negative review can help lend context to my viewpoints; plus, it tells others if they should follow me or mail me live bees instead.

Incidentally, I think you might enjoy a sort of double-feature sometime in the near future: a review of a sweet game from a series I have you to thank for introducing me to, plus a non-game blog for its actually interesting anime adaptation. I've been reviewing film on Letterboxd, so I look forward to seeing how that will prepare me for that task, as I've not yet tackled a TV show review aside from my minor general impression/recommendation for the mysterious Serial Experiments Lain.

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