No one said the holiday season has to be all vibrant and jolly. Okay, “‘tis the season to be jolly” has always been the norm. But in gaming, developers and gamers tend to break the rules every once in a while. Meet Evil Diary, for instance—a grim, dark 2D shoot ‘em up you’ll be glad to have spent less than an hour or so playing.
It’s intensely fun, even for its short run-through, and might just be what puts the cherry on your holiday season. But if you’re on the fence about whether to check it out, here’s our deep-dive Evil Diary review to help you decide whether it’s worth the dime.
Last Eve Standing
A zombie and alien attack unleashes hell on Earth. Everyone seems to have succumbed to the invasion except for Eve, the last human standing. To get to safety, though, she has to defeat hundreds of enemies across linearly structured levels.
Here They Come
The levels are in the form of long corridors, where enemies on roller skates stream in from left and right. With a handgun on one hand and hope on the other, you blast your way through as many enemies as you can. All the while, hordes of them blast back at you, set on stripping the flesh off your bone.
On the Move
The trick here is to keep moving. Often, you use directional buttons on your controller, which are instinctively better than your analog sticks. You’ll move up and down, shooting up any enemy caught in your line of sight. You also need to constantly turn left and right, as enemies will stream in from either side.
Consequently, it means the opposite for you. When you move up and down, you can evade all kinds of ammunition—lasers, poisonous bubbles, you name it. However, if you get caught in any enemy’s line of sight or the enemy constantly in vertical motion rams into you, they chip away at your health points.
Eventually, you may run out of health and die. At this point, you can start a new game. I have to say, though, that dying is pretty rare. The difficulty is really preschool stuff, thanks to straightforward controls and constantly firing ammunition.
Perhaps running out of charge can cost you, as the handgun has a limited magazine. It does reload automatically, but it can take a second to take effect. Unfortunately, you cannot reload in quieter moments during the game, which also takes away the opportunity for strategic play.
Alternatively, you can fire into blank space so that you can run out of ammo and automatically reload before the next fight. But all it does is take away the adrenaline rush of reloading during the fight. Perhaps the developing team can look into releasing a patch update for this. We’ll see.
Hand Gun Away
Also, Eve only wields a hang gun for the entirety of the game. I mean, it barely makes sense. The only way to switch your weapon is to complete your playthrough. But there’s a high chance you may put the controller down for good after a single playthrough, as there isn’t much to keep you wanting more.
At least we could have ways to upgrade the hang gun. But, no. The only power-ups you get are a lightning bolt that gives you temporary immunity and an after-a-playthrough skin that blows up every enemy within range, which happens too infrequently to count. Literally limitless ways exist to level up a weapon, from exploding bullets to, say, several lightning bolts. Just something to add a bit of flair to otherwise similar levels.
Eve, of course, doesn’t change either until the end of the playthrough. And the levels remain similar for the most part. You do see different level designs. However, most are mix-and-matches of the base concept.
Stand Out, Stand Proud
I have to say that the level at which Eve is riding a motorcycle is immersive. You shoot at enemies streaming in numbers while on it, creating varied gameplay much needed by that point. You also have mini cutscenes shooting up a boss-like invader, among other stand-out designs, but not much else.
As for the enemy variety, Evil Diary does have a decent bunch. Different types of enemies emerge from both ends of the screen, varying in appearance, weapon type, and even how they die. Some explore beautifully on impact, while others latch onto the edges of the screen, launching poisonous vile at you for the entirety of the level.
It would have been so welcome to have boss fights because, despite the sheer variety of enemies you encounter, most die pretty easily. Fortunately, it only takes less than an hour to complete a playthrough because several hours going up against the baddies in Evil Diary will inevitably grow dull.
Another One for the Road?
If you happen to finish the first playthrough and are craving for more, you can use the in-game coins you’ve been scooping up to buy some new skins and complementary weapons. You can switch up Eve’s handgun for a chainsaw, which plays a little more melee and happens to be pretty powerful at that.
You won’t have to get close to enemies, though. Simply get close enough to blast them off into space. And, my God, the chopping power this chainsaw holds is pretty special for diehard 2D shoot 'em-up fans. There’s an alternative gun that shoots up rainbow hearts, but they can sometimes warp around enemies in a helix, missing the target. Still, it’s an okay enough addition to turn up the gameplay a notch or two.
You cannot review Evil Diary without giving a nod to the bopping heavy metal soundtrack and bone-chilling Resident Evil sound effects. The sound effects usher you into a dark setting with a gloomy red and black color palette. Afterward, the thumping music score kicks in just before the zombie and alien invaders come streaming front, left, and center.
Quite confusing is the decision to have the chilling sound effects play as well at the end of the mission, regardless of victory or loss. It makes you think you died, only to get back up and running again and onto the next.
All things considered, it doesn’t get any darker than Evil Diary’s belated Halloween aesthetic. And the only criticism I have is the mismatch between the heart-pounding soundtrack and the relatively leisurely playthrough. The level of intensity simply doesn’t gel together, especially with the pretty easy objectives to complete.
Kill, usually 30 to 50 bad guys. You don’t have to kill every last invader, as simply moving out of their way works. So, even if you focus on shooting the easy ones, you still rack up points. Evil Diary might just be the easiest game to scoop up that platinum trophy you’ve been coveting. And that might be perfect for you, or not.
Occasionally, you may have slightly different objectives, like shooting the bad guys long enough for an elevator to open. Stay alive as long as the time clock runs. At the end of the day, it’s the same concept at the core and the same entry you’ll be entering into your day-to-day evil diary.
Music score. 100% check. Graphic design. Check, you know, if you fancy the dark, grim aura to take your mind off the cranked-up-a-notch jolliness of the festive season. The gameplay is the aspect that can make or break the Evil Diary experience for you. On the one hand, you immerse yourself in a mindless, carefree 2D shoot-'em-up playthrough that doesn’t ask too much of you.
It’s careful to pique your interest with enemy variety and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Unfortunately, a short playthrough—pretty much under an hour long—doesn't necessarily translate to time well spent. In that sense, Evil Diary could have used slightly more interesting enemies with varying levels of challenge.
The fact that boss fights are missing just feels like a lost opportunity to break the flow. Alternatively, the freedom to switch up weapons or add power-ups with a bit of flair could have helped smooth over the interest in repeated playthroughs.
Without strategic play, upgrades, or content variety, whether in gameplay or the level or character design, there isn’t much to keep you wanting more. In that sense, Evil Diary is the kind of game you don’t dislike at all. In fact, you’ll end up having a blissful, carefree session with it. However, returning for a second playthrough will be incredibly difficult, as you’ll have seen and experienced all there is to it.
Evil Diary is out now by developers Angelo Gamedev and 9Ratones. It’s going for $4.99, an attractive price point for all it has to offer. However, you can get it at a 20% discount for $3.99 on Steam, perhaps a more compelling option to take your mind off things, even if it's for a little while.
Evil Diary Review (PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Switch, & PC)
All in Good Fun
Looking for a grim dark shoot ’em up to take your mind off the hustle and bustle of life? Evil Diary presents you with a less-than-hour mindless fun shooting away at the bad guys without having to put much thought into it.