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Echo Generation Review: "Could Have Been One Of This Year’s Great Indie Games"

Echo Generation Review: "Could Have Been One Of This Year’s Great Indie Games"
Images: Cococucumber

Written by 

Tarran Stockton

Posted 

20th Oct 2021 14:33

On paper, Echo Generation should be a smash hit. It follows small-town kids on an otherworldly adventure, with a cast of quirky characters, and a vibrant art style - all while evoking the nostalgia of the 80s and 90s. Its classic premise - reminiscent of Earthbound or Stranger Things with inspiration from early Lucasarts adventure games - excels in its presentation, and features an admirable combat system. Does Echo Generation avoid the pitfalls of the titles it evokes, or is it another case of a 90s-inspired game not learning from its ancestors?

An Amalgamation Of Silliness

In Echo Generation, you play as a child initially tasked with spending the day with your sister, before the sinister secrets of your small town unravel, and you find yourselves in the midst of a struggle to save everything you know. Aliens, the supernatural, government conspiracies, and an evil headmaster stand in your way - but as we all know, video game children are the most powerful thing in the known universe.

It starts fairly mundane, but there are hints that the world you inhabit isn’t quite normal. From the beginning, you’re able to communicate with animals as they all speak perfect English, quickly forcing you into conflict with a gang of raccoons blocking your street. From there the ramp up is intense, leading to giant mutated rats, alien animatronic clowns, and a huge four-legged mech that fires rockets, all within the first couple of hours.

There is an inherently silly tone from the very get-go that stops the rapid introduction of aliens and supernatural elements being jarring. The world has that feeling of magical realism, which makes these elements feel like a natural inclusion, and highlights the hilariously nonchalant attitude the kids have toward fighting fairy tale creatures and mechs. It’s eclectic but never disjointed, which goes a long way in drawing you into the world.

Silliness is also rampant in the game's writing and dialogue; Echo Generation doesn’t quite have the wit of the games that inspired it, but it’s plenty funny throughout. A standout moment early on was when attempting to enter the XXX section in a video rental store: The owner obviously stopped me, prompting the little sister to reply, “that’s ageist” in earnest. While a little throw-away joke to most, taken in the wider context of the game, it was surprisingly sentimental and a nice reminder that the characters are just children; curious and vulnerable, searching for answers in a complex world.

Pixel Perfect

Echo Generation features an art style that blends the blocky voxel graphics of something like Cube World for the foreground, objects, and characters, with rich pixel art backgrounds. It makes wonderful use of colour, full of glowing oranges, neon reds, and digital blues that pair with the varied camera angles to create cinematic scenes full of detail. So many of the vistas in-game are captivating, evoking child-like wonder at what existed beyond the boundaries of Maple Town.

On top of the fantastic visual presentation, the atmosphere that the game conjures is top-notch. The original soundtrack is full of varied tunes, from bombastic punky battle themes, jovial ambient songs during the lighter exploration, and moody synths for the more overtly spooky moments. 

Varied Yet Shallow Combat

One of the better parts of Echo Generation is its turn-based combat system. It hits a sort of middle-ground between older JRPGs akin to Final Fantasy, and something like Costume Quest, but without the latter’s visual flair. That’s not to say the combat isn’t pretty because the animations and varied abilities add character to the protagonist's party and the enemies you’ll face. For example, your little sister has a penchant for things sharp and pointy, favouring knives and ninja stars, which contrasts her adorable and disarming appearance. 

The combat is very active and engaging too, full of mini-games unique to each ability that if you succeed in will deal the maximum damage. On occasion, it will switch into real time, allowing you to move about the arena dodging attacks. The mini-games aren’t particularly difficult, though the first time you try them, you’ll have to read how to complete them and then do it in such a short amount of time, that it can be detrimental to a fight to try new things. It could do with a practice arena to help familiarize yourself with the moves first, but the penalty for failing a fight is quite light, so it’s a minor gripe. 

You can also customize your characters with skills points. Levelling up a character will give you a skill point to increase health, damage, or the shared group ability pool. It’s quite shallow overall, as it doesn’t help specialize the characters in any way. Investing into health won’t meaningfully allow you to act as a pseudo-tank role, for example, as there are no abilities to draw aggro or utilize your health pool besides being the last alive. 

Give Me Clarity, Or Give Me Death

Unfortunately, the balancing in combat needs tweaking. It becomes less of an issue the longer the game goes on, but at first it was a huge hurdle to overcome and often made the game more frustrating than enjoyable. The second major boss has a huge health pool and incredibly high damage attacks that caused me to fail the fight so much, I was certain I had discovered it too early. I eventually beat it by intentionally failing the fight, so enemies would spawn again nearby, and I could farm their XP until I was strong enough to defeat it. It was a particularly low point that brought me out of the experience, and felt ruinous for a game predicated on atmosphere and immersion.

Even worse yet is the game’s lack of communication with the player. Puzzles are central to the experience, but there were only a handful that offer that eureka moment when solving it, meaning most were stumbled through in an incredibly unsatisfying manner. None of the solutions were illogical or asinine, but it’s easy to get stuck without the correct item. The only way around it is to literally scour the entire map, talking to everyone and interacting with everything repeatedly. The game could certainly do with a map that highlights interactive elements (akin to Resident Evil) and better item descriptions that more effectively hint at what the next step is. 

Disappointingly, I was unable to finish the entire game due to discovering a bug that hardlocked me, meaning I had to restart if I wanted to finish. It occurred at the very tail end of the game, with only about 5% of it left according to the developers when we spoke via Discord. They did let me know this bug would be patched out as soon as possible, but it did ruin any hope I had of reaching the end.

Masochistic Adventure Game Fans Will Enjoy

Echo Generation honestly feels like it could have been one of this year’s great indie games, but the developer's inspiration from 90s adventure games ended up being both a boon and a curse. It has a brilliantly refined style and atmosphere that provides a sense of nostalgia. It’s eclecticism in its music, art style, and enemy variety also worked to keep it fresh and engaging, but the frustrating balancing and dated puzzle implementation sullied its more immersive aspects, and can’t be overlooked.

 

6/10

Reviewed on PC. Code provided by the publisher.

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