Evil Diary opens in a window approximately the size of a 50c coin.
I was struck with fear.
Was I about to do the video game equivalent of keyhole surgery?
No, it went to fullscreen no problems.
False alarm everyone.
A roughly fifteen second loop of some of that low, creepy music with indistinct noises and a single repeating ominous piano key underscored with little bursts of lightning while the light flickers over a backsplash of colourful pixel art.
That’s the main menu.
After taking in the atmosphere for a bit, two things strike me immediately.
The first is that what we are dealing with is going to be simple.
The main menu has five options not including ‘press x to quit’ and none of them have secondary screens.
It feels a bit like something I might have put together in university, clearly a tiny dev team. To be fair to them, what they have put together is perfectly competent, just… barebones.
I click the mouse and nothing happens.
OK, nothing major, this is just going to be a keyboard game. Arrowkeys move up and down the menu, good. I start by moving over to the options to see if there is a fullscreen or borderless window mode.
Hover over the option and hit enter…
I hit spacebar, click the mouse again, shift?
Alright, this is a problem, gonna be difficult reviewing a game if I can’t pass the first puzzle section; the main menu.
Eventually I stumbled across the right key. It was ‘A’.
The entire ‘how to play section consists of ‘X is shoot gun and C is swing sword’.
Minor confession here.
I misread those incredibly simple instructions and thought that firing the gun was going to be A.
I got through the first several levels with just the melee attack, thinking the other button was nonfunctioning.
I barely took a scratch.
Only when I discovered how to shoot did I actually start taking damage as I was taking time in between wild swings of my giant sword thing to try and ping things from a distance and found that to be a mistake.
So the meta for this game so far seems to be: ignore the gun, we fight like queens here, with blood on our hands and dead aliens at our feet.
Gameplay is super Arcadey. There are literally two buttons to press other than the movement keys and as I just covered, I’m not using one of them.
Levels have only slightly different visual difference between them and seem to have zero environmental effects on gameplay.
We are in a long street corridor where aliens shuffle in from either side on predictable paths. There’s no cover, no verticality, no navigating twists or turns. Everything is in the open.
I played Evil Diary to completion in about half an hour including the time I paused to take notes and the only major variation to this formula was in the last two levels, where we are riding a motorbike while avoiding other motorbike riding aliens who appear to be riding backwards.
Some levels also require you to move forward and call a lift, others appear to end when you have killed enough monsters.
The story is that we are a blond haired survivor of a disaster that struck New York City fighting our way through monstrous creatures who might be aliens or demons to get to a point of safety.
We are fed details and personal notes from our heroine in the forms of diary entries on simple white text.
We get a stream of consciousness from our survivor which includes musings on their situation and the occasional jarring lol-speak which at least ballparks the age of our heroine.
Visually, the game is pixel art. There is a scant handful of enemy designs and environments, while samey, are at least well done. Light and darkness add to the creepy feeling. I just wish we had some variation in levels, a common sentiment for this game.
Sound design is a bit of a state.
Other than the obvious loop, the intro music is convincingly eerie, but the mid level music suddenly transitions to loud and painfully generic hard rock that is a bit of a jarring shift in tone after what I was led to believe would be a more moody atmosphere.
There’s a screeching, moaning howl whenever we enter a level which is noticeable louder than any effects and the sound menu has options for music on or off but nothing for balancing effects and music.
The gunshot sound is very stock and the aliens barely make any noise at all except when you kill them, at which point there is the same noise repeated over and over.
There’s no voice acting, which isn’t uncommon for an indie game, but yeah, the situation here is dire.
In the end the key question to ask is, did I have fun playing this?
And despite the glaring flaws, the answer is yes… somewhat.
At least partially because it was far too tiny to outstay its welcome, Evil Diary was a short but enjoyable playthrough. Don’t expect anything complicated or challenging, but I at least can say I don’t regret playing it.
Released: November 2023
Platforms reviewed: PC
Developer: Angelo Gamedev, 9Ratones
Publisher: Ratalaika Games S.L.