For a game that promises to be bigger and better than its predecessor in every way, Evil Strikes Back falls flat in almost every area except for (arguably the most important) the music. Whereas the previous installment was equal parts satire of the recording industry and love letter to the late, great Frederic Chopin, this one has more nods to musicians that were deceased far more recently, with amazing tributes to the likes of Falco, Freddie Mercury, and Michael Jackson. You won't hear Chopin's influence here, but you'll still hear some amazing tracks that duplicate the folk and contemporary music of the regions that you visit. It's not only deceased musicians who get their due, either, with characters lampooning the likes of KISS and Lady Gaga.
The part that was disappointing to me, however, was the story. The first game was quirky and charming, with clever satire mixed with other jokes and jabs at pop culture or random silly bits strewn about. Frederic himself was a somewhat smug, if charming, fish out of water, what you would expect of a composer who had been dead for a century and a half being brought back to life in today's world, trying to adjust to modern musical trends while keeping his own legacy alive and learning the reason for his return.
This time around, Frederic is almost insufferably full of himself, not to mention extremely modernized. This could have worked if some amount of time had passed, but the story is supposedly set immediately after the ending of the last game. He frequently trades substance for style, which seems to be running theme of this game this time around. It's still entertaining, it's just sad to see the hero, who was so lovable the first time around, turn into something rather obnoxious with little reasoning for it.
At the beginning of the game, Frederic loses his heart (I assume in a metaphorical sense, considering the imagery), which could explain the way he's behaving, if it weren't for a few things: 1.) he still manages to be kind and charitable when it suits him, 2.) he was acting this way both before and after it was returned and 3.) the first game already dealt with him trying to find his heart, in a more literal fashion (a nod to the controversy surrounding the fact that while Chopin was interrered in Pere Laichez cemetary in Paris, his heart is enshrined in an urn filled with alcohol in Warsaw). Basically, he's already gone around without a heart, and managed to be a good character regardless of it, if an unwitting pawn in a grander scheme.
That's not to say this game isn't without its own degree of charm and humor. Most of the references are nods to internet memes this time around, sometimes subtly, sometimes more obviously but to hilarious effect (especially the ending). But as a music game, if you're not in it for the story, then it's still more than solid. The soundtrack is easily equal to, if it doesn't surpass, the first game's, and the gameplay hasn't been radically changed, but mixed up just enough to keep it fresh.
It's sad that the storytelling isn't as strong as it was the first time around, but like the previous game, the fact that it includes a free copy of its stellar soundtrack makes it worth the price of admission alone. That you get a fun and quirky music game in the deal is all gravy.