Echo Generation is set in 1993, and one of its greatest achievements is how well it captures this retro vibe, which is perfectly complemented by the game’s soundtrack and voxel art style. There is definitely something of Stranger Things in that feeling Echo Generation depicts of being home for the summer and setting off on a childhood adventure, and even when the first unsettling undertones appear, it still feels like a tale of childish mischief. It reminded me of Costume Quest in this, with the idea of a kid’s conspiracy; that something supernatural or strange is going on that only the kids know about. It’s a night of strange events that nobody else seems to witness — you’re talking to animals, you’re fighting giant rats that the grown-ups don’t believe exist — and there’s even something of childhood imagination in the way buildings are bigger on the inside, such as the awesome treehouse that doubles as a shop for supplies. This works to bolster the game’s sense of youthful imagination, but it does come across as a bit odd when something blatantly bizarre or supernatural happens and nobody seems to care, or there’s only a line or two of dialogue about it. It also means that it’s all the more off-putting when the scarier aspects start to leak in, leading to some genuinely unsettling moments where something slightly terrifying occurs, but nobody ever mentions it again.
Combat is a key part of Echo Generation. It’s turn-based, but there are real-time controls thrown in for each move. These interactive prompts are varied and do a great job of keeping you on your toes. On the down side, fights can get pretty repetitive when you’ve exhausted all of your skill points and are limited to just one move. Fights where the enemy has a lot of health can also feel far too lengthy, especially when you run into the same problem of having used up all your skill points so that you’re only left with a few viable moves. Combat is also an issue when taken into account with the amount of backtracking you need to do in Echo Generation. Often, you’ll find that you’re missing just one thing to progress and are left running from one end of the game to the other, re-checking everything you’ve already tried in an effort to find that one missing piece. Add to that the random enemy encounters you’ll run into, and it starts to feel like more of a slog to have to battle your way through. There are items you can buy to escape combat, but these are limited and getting caught out without one is too common a nuisance. I did like the inclusion of pets to your party, which added some variety to the types of moves used and a catch-‘em-all aspect to the gameplay as you try to collect all of the pets available. Yet another plus was the way in which you acquire new combat moves — you find them as comics scattered around the world, which plays in perfectly to Echo Generation’s retro vibe. On the other hand, it can be a downside when you face a particularly hard boss, hoping for a way to progress the game, only to unlock a move you’re not fussed about or a move for a pet you’re not using.
Backtracking was definitely one of the less enjoyable aspects of Echo Generation. The game’s levels are lovely and beautifully designed, but they’re not seen at their best when you’re running back and forth, frustrated at one missing piece of the game’s puzzle. There is no map or journal to refer to, and this seems like a big omission. It’s handy in games like Resident Evil 8 to know when you’ve completed an area, and something similar would be ideal in Echo Generation, or at least a Quests page to keep an eye on what you’re meant to be doing. Without that, it can sometimes feel as though you’re just running around and trying things at random to find what works, instead of reaching the conclusion logically. Backtracking is also an issue when you factor in how few places there are to sleep and heal your party, meaning you’ve got a lot of zooming back and forth to do between fights, especially if you’re trying to level someone up.
One of Echo Generation’s strengths, on the other hand, is its dialogue, which is ideally suited to its goofier, more mischievous side, and which doesn’t hesitate to poke fun at itself. While the dialogue was enjoyable, however, the story itself often felt disjointed, or else oddly without impact. Some of the biggest or most unexpected moments weren’t referred to much at all, while the occasional hitch in progression left the story beats feeling a little strung out. The achievements weren’t live at the time of writing, but from what I saw they do seem to unlock with a pleasing regularity, rewarding you for making your way through the story, facing Echo Generation’s tougher bosses, and collecting all of its comic-book moves.
Echo Generation is a gorgeous turn-based adventure game with an awesome retro vibe. It doesn’t always live up to the adventure it promises, with combat sometimes feeling too lengthy or repetitive, and it’s not always clear what you should be doing, but if you’re browsing that Xbox Game Pass library and wondering what to try next, or if you’re looking for something that captures that sense of childhood adventure, you should give Echo Generation a try.
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