I’m not normally a fan of turn-based RPGs, but Echo Generation’s voxel-based visuals caught my attention, so I decided to give it a shot. I’m very glad I did. While it’s a sometimes frustrating game, it has enough charm and style that I enjoyed it even when I got stuck. It also doesn’t overstay its welcome, offering up a short, Stranger Things-like adventure that most folks will be able to finish in under five hours.
Echo Generation stars a young boy or girl (you get to decide) and their younger sister. They live in the 1980s in a small, usually quiet town. Soon after starting the game, the two of you discover a crashed UFO piloted by someone who seems to work for the same secretive company your missing dad works for. From there, you go on a journey to learn the truth behind the company, find out what happened to your dad, discover why aliens and mutated monsters are appearing all around town, and hopefully save the day. Don’t worry, you aren’t alone. You and your sister can find pet companions to help you in your adventure. My personal favourite was a cat that could lick us to heal us. A bit weird, very useful.
Your town is filled with the usual things you’d expect, like an empty school that’s closed for summer, local video rental stores, and, of course, all sorts of strange and scary monsters, aliens, and ghosts. OK, wait, I guess that last part isn’t what you’d expect to find in most towns, but Echo Generation is clearly inspired by shows like Stranger Things, as well as other RPGs like EarthBound. And just like those popular pieces of pop culture, Echo Generation mixes cheery children with dark, evil characters and situations.
For example, at one point you end up in a fight with a knife-wielding, child-murderin’ kidnapper who may or may not be someone that your character knows. So, yeah…not entirely a family-friendly game, even if it looks so damn adorable.
The game’s dialogue is well written, and often made me smile or even laugh. There’s a laid-back vibe to it all, as if it knows that its world is creepy and filled with nasty monsters, so it doesn’t want to scare you too much. Characters make lots of jokes or point out how absurd things are getting. You might also encounter some very odd individuals who can help you dig into the stranger aspects of the town lingering beneath its seemingly normal surface, or some downright terrifying folks who shatter the chill vibes and lead to some disturbing events. In these moments the game tones down the jokes and gets a bit more serious, which I appreciated.
As you explore the town, unlocking shortcuts and collecting everything that isn’t nailed down so you can solve all the adventure-game-like puzzles in this thing, you have to fight baddies and monsters too. Combat is turn-based, but sees you completing mini-games and QTEs during some attacks and when defending, similar to mechanics found in older Paper Mario games or Costume Quest. Get the timing just right or complete the mini-games perfectly and you’ll block more effectively or your attacks will deal extra damage. You can unlock additional moves for your pets and characters and level them up to improve their stats, too. None of this is anything new and the overall combat is fairly simple, but it’s fun and challenging enough that it held my interest for the five hours or so that I played.
I also want to mention how gorgeous this game looks. The voxel-based characters and props, juxtaposed with pixel art textures and backgrounds, create this charming, attractive world where retro-inspired visuals mix with modern technology in a way that just pops on a big 4K TV. I imagine it still looks great on a smaller, 1080p monitor or screen, too, but screenshots on your phone don’t do this game justice. In motion, with HDR and all that jazz, it might be one of my favourite-looking games of 2021. Needless to say, I took a lot of screenshots in Echo Generation.
Unfortunately, a few frustrations interfere with all that visual and stylistic bliss, particularly some of the puzzles you have to solve to progress. Most of them aren’t too hard, especially if you pay attention to item descriptions and make sure to grab everything you find, but a few stumped me for quite a while. At one point I had to reach out to the devs for help with a puzzle. The solution was annoyingly simple but also easily missable, and I suspect others will also hit a few roadblocks.
Thankfully, with the game out today on Xbox and PC, you should be able to look up solutions to puzzles if you get stuck. And I recommend you do that, because none of them are worth wasting hours of your time trying to solve. Just look up what to do and keep moving forward. Life’s too short to not have a good time with a game that looks this nice.