Echo Generation Review: Strangest Things In A Sleepy Town
Voxels: an art form that’s relatively unused by most, sans a couple of outliers like Trove and 3D Dot Game Heroes. Imagine Minecraft but with much smaller blocks and much more precision, or a 2D pixel game turned 3D while still keeping that sorta low-res look. With Echo Generation, developer Cococucumber has decided to see how far the voxel can really go, and boy did they turn this cube work into eye candy. Though looking great doesn’t always translate to a good game. So does Echo Generation’s retro-styled voxel trip revive an echo of the past? Let’s find out!
Find A Way
I’ll start with the basic stuff, and that’s the combat. Echo Generation features a turn-based combat system with RPG elements. So you’ll have debuffs and buffs, and all of the moves have some sort of mini-game tied to them, from timing your inputs when shapes align to aligning a tile puzzle. You’ll only have three members out at a time, so planning’s sometimes necessary. And with how off-the-wall some of the enemies are, you’ll be subject to some primo trial-and-error. Believe me, missing your QTE on an AOE ability will absolutely hurt, if not party wipe entirely. If you do wind up with a party wipe, you’ll be sent back to where you entered the map with half your health. It’s a relatively fast process, and you can either restore your health with food or by resting at a bed, which is usually not too far away.
Admittedly, early game content is a bit rough since bosses can do a good chunk of damage, and you won’t have a full suite of abilities to dish out damage with. This tends to happen early on in a good amount of RPGs, though the option to level grind in this game is quite limited, with only a handful of enemies that consistently respawn. This becomes an issue since all the characters that join later in the game will start at level one, so you’d need to level grind on lower-tier enemies for a while just to catch them up. I’d find it prudent and honestly an all-out plus to see more respawning enemies on the map, as it would give the developers the chance to throw in even more wacky enemies and provide a way for less skilled players to navigate the more challenging boss fights.
Another thing I found as I played the game is that the button prompt for blocking and attacking would get increasingly harder to catch, with the time you have to press that button sometimes becoming less than half a second. It turns out this was actually a bug of sorts and not intended as a feature. I imagine this will be squashed in the post-release patches, but let this be a heads up for those who might encounter that little quirk.
The next thing to go over is the story and characters, which are in a peculiar state. See, Echo Generation doesn’t take itself seriously, and the zaniness it offers might put off some people looking for something cohesive. I can only equate this to playing a PG episode of South Park. You aren’t here for a stable plot: you’re here to be entertained! So it’s best to go in with loose expectations and just enjoy the trip. There’s gonna be aliens, mechs, some top-secret government business, all the fun stuff you’d probably see out of a Saturday morning cartoon – with a bit of Spielbergian surrealism to spice things up.
As for the characters, they’re about what you’d expect. First, you have the main character, a laid-back wannabe filmmaker who works on fan flicks with his friend. He can be customized to look however you want via a selection of templates you can choose at the beginning of the game. Next, you’ll meet up with your sister, who’s a good foil to the main character. She’s a little more timid but realistic and has a cutesy attitude that’s endearing. The dialogue’s boiled down to some general interactions of wit and humor, nothing deep or meaningful, but just a few charming conversations from time to time as you interact with the environment. I wouldn’t say this is terrible writing by any means. It’s just a touch scarce and simply does what it needs to for the most part. Humorously, you can talk with all of the animals in the game. Some of their conversations were my absolute favorites, like Meowsy, who’s only tagging along to “protect his suicidal humans.” As I said before, there’s not much, but it’s charming and funny where it counts, and that’s fine by me.
Probably the most glaring issue I noticed is there’s no guidance. No quests, no help, no tips. You’re meant to mainly glean information from the setting and environment, and sometimes this works out fine, even when it’s subdued and you really gotta pay attention. I can see where this would be a design choice, harkening back to older games that didn’t have much in the way of showing the player where to go. Other times, though, it drops any desire to feed you anything resembling a “lead.”
Some of the solutions for these puzzles are obtuse to the point of frustrating. One good example of this is where you need to draw the lazy bookstore employee’s attention to a sabotaged toy train so you can snatch a necessary book. The thing is, she won’t do a thing without the manager telling her to do it. I ran up and down the streets looking for said manager and couldn’t figure out how to find this man. It turns out, you have to go into the abandoned school, go to the principal’s office, then use the phone on his desk to prank call the store and get her to get off her lazy rear. If I hadn’t moved my character in just the right spot to see the prompt to interact with the phone, I doubt I would’ve guessed that was where the solution was. This isn’t side content either; it’s throughout the main campaign in its entirety.
Even a few more tooltips, item descriptions, or dialogue could easily clear up the confusion with a bit more conciseness. But as it stands, I spent at least five of my gameplay hours wandering around like an idiot because I had no idea what to do. I sincerely hope there’s more clarification added in any patches down the road.
Now we can get to the good stuff, which is easily the graphics, atmosphere, and music. Arguably the whole game inspires a quaint nostalgia that flavors the world impeccably. The game itself is set in the ’90s, but features a lot of inspiration from the ’80s, bringing to mind vibes from Stranger Things and The Goonies. It’s a world set up just for a group of kids and a mascot to set off for a grand adventure and see the nostalgic sights scattered around the world while fighting monsters. Often there are subtle interactions littered around the world that are just there to flavor the scenery, which is an absolute A+ in my book. I love a world that doesn’t need to put deep value into every interaction, giving me a chance to check out the sights and see how characters react and interact to the world.
It brings the charm and atmosphere, and there’s no shortage at all in this wacky adventure. The surreal nature of the world’s contents, while over the top more often than not, works to its advantage as it shows unique levels of creativity. FBI agents interrogating a talking trash panda? Sure! Throw it in! Want to face off against the ghost of a long-forgotten prom night tragedy that now stalks the school? Yeah, I absolutely do! It’s these instances that I don’t know what to expect and that drives me to explore every inch of the world, and you best believe I did. The visuals are so crisp and clean, too, with shading and lighting bringing the world to life in a warm and glowing way. Another absolute win in my book is the magazine covers that give your characters new skills. They look so detailed and authentic, with full color and personality front and present. I’d probably buy a few of these if someone ever made real versions. They’re just so fun to look at!
The music and sounds are a plus as well, with the tunes being a real hit with me. From the somber music box in the pet cemetery to the upbeat banjo riff heard during the Crop Rouge boss fight, there’s a full flavor for every instance, and it rarely misses a note. You’ll have some songs that feel a bit duller than others, while others spike up the action as they should. The music selection is something I can only describe as a grab bag of tunes from older PS2 games, simple in roots and design, but not feeling dated. For example, the main theme of Maple Town is just a simple synth melody with a bit of percussion and ambient sounds. It’s catchy enough to suffice since you aren’t trying to listen in on a bunch of excess noise. You can even get the cassette tapes for some of the tunes and play them out of the boombox in your room. That said, the sounds and FX seem a little generic, and the voice sounds definitely started to get annoying after a bit. The FX does what it needs to and isn’t anything to write home about, with a few FX that stand out but for stranger reasons. For example, when I was fighting the Crop Rouge, when it’d rev up for a buzz saw attack, it made the sound of a chainsaw (could also have been a dirt bike) instead. There’s a couple that didn’t sound right for one reason or another, but they’re so isolated that I wouldn’t sink much thought into them.
All in all, there’s a lot of heart to this little gem. It’s got some rough edges, particularly in its refusal to hold players’ hands. Players might find they need the extra help, and for that, we’ll have a plethora of guides to help smooth over that issue. But the fact does remain that there’s a lack of guidance where it counts here. It’s worth keeping in mind that this game doesn’t want, nor need, to take itself seriously, so someone hoping for a long-lasting, deep plot should approach with caution. Lastly, if there’s one thing someone could take from this game, it’s that voxel’s back baby, and Cococucumber proves it in spades. The shading, atmosphere, and vivid coloring make the whole world pop in ways that only Cococucumber could’ve pulled off.
If you’re in the mood for an ’80s-inspired sci-fi adventure with solid combat and beautiful, voxel-based visuals, Echo Generation has exactly what you’re looking for.
Final Verdict 4/5
Available on: Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, Steam; Publisher: Cococucumber; Developer: Cococucumber; Number of players: single-player (campaign); Released: October 20th, 2021; MSRP: $24.99
Full disclosure: The developer provided a review copy.