Evil Twin: Cyprien's Chronicles is a PAL-only 3D platformer developed by In Utero and published by Ubisoft on the PS2 and PC in 2001-2002, with BigBen Interactive publishing a Dreamcast version in 2002 as well. The titular orphan Cyprien finds himself depressed on his birthday, as it was the day his parents died. In spite of his friends' efforts to cheer him up, he goes back to his room, where he runs into his imaginary friend, the teddy bear Lenny. Still upset, Cyprien calls Lenny nothing but a toy and condemns his world to oblivion. Soon afterwards, Cyprien's friends get kidnapped by shadows and Cyprien finds himself in the world of Undabed, where the elephant Wilbur drops down on a swing and tells Cyprien to find Lenny and save him from the Master. Said Master ruined Undabed using destructive waves that covered most of the world in water, save for a few islands that Cyprien must now explore.
The story of Evil Twin is a trip and a half, let me tell you. If I understand things correctly, it was salvaged from a TV show that never escaped pre-production. As such, it's very inventive and even has some decent structure to its plot. But good god is it bizarre!
Imagine playing American Mcgee's Alice, except the source material was never published and you can't link the game's content directly to any other piece of media except for James Cameron's Titanic. That's how weird this thing is. It's positioned as a sort of coming-of-age story, presenting childish whimsy and tarnishing it with its gloomy presentation.
That sounds like baby's first subversive story, making children's stuff seem edgy, but there's something about the tone of the game takes that befuddles me. There is light cursing, drugs and a very limited colour palette. Not to mention that Cyprien calls out one of the characters for being racist once. Even so, there's something calm and collected about the whole thing. Cutscenes are surprisingly eloquent and Cyprien is overall pretty nice to the people of Undabed, even if he's a bit snarky in his notebook.
Maybe this is what teenage-centric games should be? A bit crass, but rooted in one's childhood? You don't really see that often. It's either completely childish like many Nintendo games, or edgy like the Jak games. I suppose I have to respect the game for that, if anything. And as I said, the plot is pretty well-crafted. You make your way through each themed island, solving local problems and making allies until you rescue one of Cyprien's friends and move on to the next area. Even though everything connects properly, it still sort of flies over your head doing its own thing and you just have to stare at it. Does that make sense?
Screw it, I give up. I can't get a good read on this thing. I blame the French. Or the French-Canadians, whoever made this thing. Check out some cutscenes yourself and see if you're up to the task.
With the game's planned release being in 1998, it should come as no surprise that it looks like a high-res PS1 game, which is a style that has its charm. But even so, I cannot overstate just how washed out and dreary the whole adventure is. It makes sense for the story, but it really wears you down after a while. Thankfully, the music is outstanding, being either sombre, jaunty or haunting with a lot of xylophone sounds (a very "childish" instrument), pianos or wind chimes. The OST stands on its own and is well worth a listen.
The actual levels are pretty cool. Save for the forest island, it's all grime and gloom (and even then, the forest is pretty gloomy), as previously described. But each major area has its own feel in spite of how similar the colours used are. Outside of some linear segments, each island is usually divided into a central hub that connects to the various levels. Your goal then is to navigate the hub, find the next level and complete an objective before moving on to the next one in a linear fashion.
While you can't explore more than the game wants you to, I still found making progress to be frustrating and obtuse. The hub levels are pretty large, so finding the next level can be pretty difficult, especially if you need to solve some puzzle in a previous level or area before moving on. The game is pretty bad at signposting what it wants you to accomplish (In spite of it having literal signposting!). Special mention goes out to two puzzles that both involve the use of what I parse as background objects, but must actually be shot with Cyprien's slingshot even though they don't look interactable at all!
The mechanics are simple, as with many platformers. Cyprien can jump, do a ground pound or shoot his slingshot. That's about it, at least when you're normal Cyprien. Spread across the levels are also SuperCyp tokens that let you transform into Cyprien's alter ego, SuperCyp (by awkwardly pressing jump and action at the same time). In this form, you jump higher, can glide for a second or so and you have access to a wider array of attacks, making SuperCyp better than normal Cyprien in most situations. But the transformation is on a timer and your reserve of transformation power drains even when you aren't transformed, so you can't use SuperCyp unless the game wants you to.
And you're damn well gonna want to, because this game is janky and ardous as hell! Cyprien's jump is just bad enough to make you wary of every platform, making it impossible to get a good flow going. A double jump would have things so much more palpatable. And don't think the game is balanced around these lackluster controls either, it demands some real precision platforming regularly. And did I mention that the camera is never on your side? While it doesn't flip around while you're jumping, it doesn't adjust to the best location for the current platforming challenge at hand either. The end result being some really aggravated falls, not helped by Cyprien being susceptible to falling damage and their being bottomless pits everywhere. The tutorial messages are also terribly written, which really confuses me, because the rest of the game has such good language. They read like how an alien would try to explain controls to you.
Everything that has to do with combat is bad too. First of all, Cyprien's ground pound is completely useless. You can only use it while in motion, the animation locks you into place, flinging you forwards a lot and the hitbox on it is absurdly tiny. Thankfully, you have a slingshot with infinite ammo that seems to do the same amount of damage, so actually killing something isn't that hard under optimal circumstances. Of course, since enemies don't drop anything of value and respawn, actually fighting them never feels worth it. My brain categorizes them not as enemies in a platformer, but as neverending distractions that want me to fail the next jump.
I don't think I ever actually enjoyed myself in gameplay. I just put up with it for the sake of satiating my curiosity. And now, at the end of the road, having completed the game, I just wish it was a TV show instead. Still, it gets points for being so damn weird.