When an over-the-hill Knight with a beer gut, a pretty boy Elf who’s way too full of himself, and a senile Wizard team up to take on a Dark Lord, you can bet the resulting game will draw plenty of comparisons to The Lord of the Rings. I must admit, I went in expecting an Action Adventure parody with breadth to match some of the best LOTR tie-in games — and if you approach this title with the same mindset I did, consider yourself in for a real shocker! To set your expectations appropriately for Evertales (Out Now, $0.99 Sale), you have to reach back much further than the explosion of interest in Middle-earth. All the way back to the NES days, in fact! I hadn’t thought to look here for the qualities I loved in ye olde Nintendo platformers, but as luck would have it, Crescent Moon Games’ and Thunder Game Works’ approach feels as if it’s been informed by golden oldies like Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse and KID’s G.I. Joe series.

If you’ve seen screen shots or video where Evertales’ production values are on full display, you might believe I’m making a serious reach here. Bear with me on this. One way the old side-scrollers added depth to a very simplistic formula was to toss in multiple characters for the player to work with, switching them on the fly to access unique abilities as the situation demanded. That’s exactly what Evertales has recaptured. Any given level feels like a string of environmental puzzles where the player has to figure out which character is a fit for each segment. Leaping among floating platforms or tree branches is best done by the Elf, his ultra-handy double jump making all his narcissistic quips bearable. Only the Wizard’s float ability can negotiate a vertical corridor filled with spiked platforms, and if a tough enemy waits at the bottom, the player had better whip out the Knight to dispatch it. The character switch is executed instantaneously with a virtual button, and the amount of use the player gets out of it increases as Evertales’ environments grow ever more complex.

The way that character switching goes hand-in-hand with environment design is without a doubt Evertales’ main draw. A game of this kind lives or dies on its platforming, and I was ecstatic to find that the further I dove in, the more enjoyable this aspect became. If you’re looking for a really deep combat system, on the other hand, you’ll be almost as disappointed here as you would be if you literally picked up a platformer from the early 1990s: enemy and boss behaviors are very simplistic, and each character can execute only one attack at any given time. On the bright side, multiple weapons can be unlocked for each hero to flesh out his combat usefulness, and the player cycles through these just as quickly as through characters. Unlockables give the player a ton of incentive to collect coins scattered throughout.

All weapons are not necessarily created equal, and the mileage the player gets out of Evertales’ combat will depend quite a bit on which ones he or she goes for first. The Elf’s bow is one of the more lackluster renditions of the Elf-and-arrow trope I’ve seen thanks to its weak range, while his throwing knives are infinitely more exciting. The player doesn’t have to collect ammo for the Elf’s and Wizard’s long range attacks, so the focus remains simply on which weapons are most useful on average. Only the Knight has a proper combo; the Elf and Wizard attack with a measured repetition befitting the earliest Castlevanias.

There are a few things on my wish list for updates. Evertales’ default camera angle gives the player an expanded view of what lies ahead, but this comes at the expense of seeing much of what lies behind — obviously a problem if you’ve passed up some floating coins or a jumping boss lands behind the hero. It’s no wonder why Evertales sometimes switches to a true side-scrolling view, and the developers would do well to double check which segments could still benefit from a camera angle switch: notably the first and fourth bosses, and some tree jumping segments in the second level. Better yet, it would be great if the player could choose between the default camera angle and side-scrolling view at will! Secondly, there are one or two instances where it’s possible to push a logistically important crate into a pit, leaving it unrecoverable until the player makes his or her hero commit suicide to force a reset of in-game objects. With troublesome vampire bats flying around, there’s also an occasion or two where it would be helpful if the heroes could defend themselves while they’re on ladders.

Evertales dodges a bullet in the interface department by giving the player a choice between swipe controls and action buttons for the attack and jump functions; you can tell which option I stuck with by the screenshots in this review, and the decision was easy. There’s something of a truism building on iOS: if your game is inspired by designs that were implemented with traditional console controllers in the first place, then it’s best to give players the option to use a virtual button interface. Swiping to attack doesn’t feel particularly intuitive here thanks to the visual perspective, and the time needed to swipe out a jump attack is a little more effort than it’s worth. On the other hand, the game’s usual camera angle does a great job of keeping gameplay elements away from the action buttons! There’s no option for the movement control, but I found it very satisfactory thanks to the extraordinary sensitivity applied to the left-hand side of the touchscreen. The tutorial suggests a full swipe and hold in the direction the player wants to travel, but planting your thumb in one place and letting it rock back and forth works just as well.

Evertales is devastatingly gorgeous in screen shots, there’s no doubt! However, I can only suspect the lavish production values pumped into this one are something of a curse as well as a blessing. Seriously, is there a single person drooling over these character models who isn’t going to be disappointed that the Elf doesn’t pull off jackknife kicks? Or that the pot-bellied Knight can’t do a barrel roll straight through lined up skeletons, with cool Matrix-like slowdown and camera panning? There are certain expectations we apply to games that look this beautiful that we simply wouldn’t if we were looking at the 2D sprites of games marketed as “retro” straight out. The simple and repetitive character animations, against backdrops like the ones on offer here, can only seem a bit jarring. The audio work is standout through and through, with comically dramatic narration opening each level. A straight shot through Evertales‘ seven stages will stretch up to three hours, and there’s definitely some replay value in backtracking for more in-game cash.

iFanzine Verdict: A beautiful game to look at, and a beautiful one to play as long as you’re in it for a neat character switch system that captures the spirit of some of the best classic platformers. Fans of complex action games will be disappointed with the limited abilities of the game’s player characters, however — consider this one to pick up if you’re more on the “adventure” side of Action Adventure fandom. Retro platformer enthusiasts may also be surprised at how much mileage they’ll get out of this one despite its very non-retro production values.