ach5

'Everhood's' Strange Musical Game Melted My Brain 2021

ach5

Key Takeaways

A lighthearted pixel-art game with truly challenging mock combat, Everhood's biggest problem is that it might be too weird.An early contender for the best video game soundtrack of the year.The game starts with an epilepsy warning for a very good reason. If flashing lights are any sort of problem for you, this is not your game.

Everhood is half a surreal indie adventure game, half a non-violent shoot-'em-up, and one hundred percent a justification for its soundtrack to exist.

Playing it feels like you're having someone else's dream. Everhood: An Ineffable Tale of the Inexpressible Divine Moments of Truth—to use its full title exactly once—goes from cheerfully weird to outright psychedelia early on. Much of Everhood would look right at home being projected on the wall above the DJ booth at a trance show.

However, it's a strange experience due to a lack of focus and a steep difficulty curve. I admire its sheer inventiveness, and its music is great both for its own sake and in how Everhood uses it, but the game is almost too self-consciously weird for its own good.

The Rhythm is Going to Get You

There are two main games in Everhood. One is a pixel-art adventure game where you explore a series of open-ended maps to solve puzzles, collect items, and meet a cast of eccentric characters. It's a pure shot of Super Nintendo nostalgia, and I can't help but appreciate it.

The other is its 'combat,' which takes the form of a one-on-one musical challenge to the death. Imagine a round of Guitar Hero if it was deliberately trying to kill you; you're asked to jump, flip, and slide through a constantly shifting maze of violent harmonies.

Right from the start of Everhood, its music is great, but its fights are remarkably unforgiving. It's a lot like dodging enemy fire in a 'bullet hell' arcade game and gives you about as much room for error.

Everhood recommends that it be played on Hard difficulty. I disagree. It takes practice and solid reflexes to survive Everhood's music battles, and I started having a lot more fun with them on lower difficulties when I wasn't constantly on the verge of death.

Part of that fun is the game's soundtrack, which is almost uniformly excellent. Everhood isn't a traditional rhythm game, as your personal ability to stay on beat doesn't matter that much, but each boss attacks in tune with its particular theme song. It's some of the best use of music in an indie game since Super Meat Boy.

When the Going Gets Strange

There's a movement in science fiction, the New Weird, which is mostly about breaking away from genre norms to unnerve or mystify the reader. If genre novels are your favorite comfort food, a New Weird book wants to be an unexpected bucket of ice water to the face.

Everhood is one of several recent video games that fit as neatly into the New Weird as any China Mieville novel, alongside Undertale, Nier: Automata, Heartbound, Wandersong, and Loop Hero. The unifying factor is that each one draws on multiple genres simultaneously, mixing them into entirely original products.

With Everhood in particular, it feels like it's running off pure dream logic. One stage is a village full of puzzles; another is a Gothic castle with a monster in a maze; a third is a carnival, complete with a working go-kart track. You go from a dark forest path to a nightclub full of monsters to an industrial incinerator in the first ten minutes. You can't accuse it of ever being boring.

At the same time, and just like a dream, Everhood isn't particularly cohesive. It never firmly establishes its own ground rules, so there's none of that pleasant shock when it starts deciding to break them. You just pinball between scenarios with no particular rhyme or reason.

That cuts some of Everhood's overall impact. I like the game well enough, although there's a certain tonal clash between its intended difficulty and its cheerful storyline, but it's all high strangeness, all the time.

It's an interesting problem for a video game to have. Everhood's primary issue isn't that it ran out of ideas but that it could've stood to leave a few of them out. It's entirely worth your time, but I'd argue that Everhood is maybe one strong editing pass away from greatness.