It’s hard not to root for a ragtag group of kids’ wild adventures amidst their mundane, everyday settings. Echo Generation Takes that charming idea and tosses it in with bizarre sci-fi encounters, gorgeous backdrops and a tried-and-true combat formula. While there is so much to celebrate here, there is a very unfortunate component of this game that can completely bog down the experience, leaving players slamming on the breaks after so much momentum.
Echo Generation Shows Off Small Town Life in Style
Echo Generation’s visuals work wonders on Xbox’s next-gen hardware. The voxel art style of this game immediately sets it apart from other contemporary indie RPGs. Each character manages to have a fair amount of personality shine through amidst the blocky aesthetic.
The people that inhabit the simple Canadian town of Echo Generation look great, but it’s the locations themselves that steal the show. From sandy junkyards to rich sunsets, or ominous science labs, each set piece is finely crafted. The lighting is some of the best I’ve seen in a while. There was one particular part of the story where you needed to break into the basement of an incredibly slimy, dangerous individual. The unfinished, grey concrete appearance went from bland to terrifying once you took in all the chilling trinkets and the perfectly implemented, drab LED lighting. It lit the room in a limited, haunting way that allowed the set-piece to ooze horror and tension. It served as one of my favourite moments of environmental storytelling for quite some time.
These visuals are enough to keep just about anyone hooked on the game. Fans of Square Enix’s patented “HD-2D” art style will drool over plenty of moments in Echo Generation.
The writing is worth noting as well. Dialogue takes on much of the snappy, quirky and cheeky quips you’d come to expect from a nostalgia-drenched tale. Humorously incompetent law enforcement, smart-ass teenagers, sassy animal companions that can talk to the surprise of absolutely no one; it’s all there. While the plot isn’t exactly crystal clear at first, the quality of the writing, sentence by sentence, kept me enticed enough to want to figure it all out.
Sadly, this is where the praise for Echo Generation comes to a halt, at least in its current state.
Locked in Place
The fundamental gameplay doesn’t offer any surprises or refreshing changeups, which is totally fine! Sometimes a rudimentary turn-based system is enough to do the job when the rest of the experience is surrounded by distinct flare. Playable characters work with items, a limited list of moves to unlock, with some fun button sequence gimmicks thrown in to make you concentrate a little bit more. Enemies felt perfectly fair and boss fights hit just the right difficulty level. All in all, everything felt fairly balanced and in sync. That is until items came into play.
It became apparent that, especially in the early and middle stages of the game, items are essential to victory. No, your skill level nor your experience with similar RPGs of old will make a difference. You are almost guaranteed to require regenerative items of some variety at some point or another. Boss fights are where the necessity for them becomes most apparent.
There came a time where, after completely running out of items for a boss fight I was attempting, I would not be able to replenish any items whatsoever. There were absolutely no warning signs, either.
In previous defeats at the hands of a boss, I was able to check a nearby garbage can or another interactive form of storage and see whatever items I used in the last round waiting for me to pick back up. At the midway point of Echo Generation, I encountered a boss where this option simply no longer existed. Much to my disappointment, the problems were only just beginning from there.
At that point, I needed to exit the area I was in and find new items to bring back into the battle. My options were limited but simple: Pick up currency off the ground and use it to purchase items, or kill simple enemies to earn currency for items. Unfortunately, the first option was no longer viable, as money was a one-time pickup, much like your standard RPG treasure chest. I had cleaned up every penny lying around within the areas I had unlocked. This leads to option two, a good ol’ RPG grind fest. Players like me are well versed in grinding out simple enemies for currency, items and XP for levelling up. But much to my shock, enemies were simply not respawning. Full stop.
No matter the sequence: restarting the game, going in and out of different areas, sleeping in my bed to begin a new in-game day. All of it was futile. Enemies were not coming back which, in tandem with option one, made it impossible to earn money. This, in turn, made it impossible for me to regain any items and thus, seemingly impossible to progress in the game. A soft lock of massive proportions.
Fortunately, I was able to break free. However, this took over four painstaking hours of repeated boss attempts, leaving my fate entirely up to RNG. No items, coming back with only half health and falling victim to inevitable moves that plough through your team’s health meter. Yes, healing moves are an option and your characters are able to block, but none of those mechanics can completely prevent damage. Even then, healing spells are finite, as they deplete skill points which, as you may be able to guess, can only be replenished with a specific, purchasable item.
Thankfully, after clawing my way out of that gruelling scenario, I treaded incredibly carefully through the remainder of Echo Generation, which really dampened my remaining playthrough of an otherwise fantastic game. I’m all for instilling judicious item usage and strategic approaches, but those can only be pulled off successfully if players can put in the work to regain those resources. As it currently stands, Echo Generation does not accomplish this.
Please let it be known for posterity’s sake that I am rooting for this game all the way. If the developers, Cococucumber, can update the game with the appropriate fixes, this is an indie that is well worth almost anyone’s time. But for now, I would advise you to proceed with caution.
Stunning enemies, characters and environments pair effectively with this retro-themed sci-fi romp. The writing is engaging and is sure to bring on a chuckle here and there. However, as item accessibility currently stands, Echo Generation is a game that can suddenly make you walk on eggshells with absolutely no warning at all. Hopefully, these issues are resolved in due time so that players can take in this charming tale of aliens, creepy puppets, missing family and amateur filmmaking.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]