Does Echo Generation Succeed In Capturing The Earthbound Spirit?

Platform(s): Xbox Series (version played), Xbox One, PC
Genre: Voxel-Graphics adventure RPG set in suburbia 80s and sci-fi shenanigans

For all of its charm and bits of 80s love, Echo Generation feels pretty aimless. The adventure game and RPG, complete with turn-based combat and a Mario & Luigi style action prompt system, has its heart in the right place thanks to the work of Canadian devs Cococucumber.

Execution-wise, however, it feels a bit off.

Super 8

I’ll start with the good: Echo Generation oozes style. The voxel graphic aesthetics and landscapes, from your main character’s little slice of suburbia to the outskirts and beyond, are rendered gorgeously. The music too is charming and quirky, though the combat tunes sometimes loop and feel faded out in the worst of ways.

And then there’s the core plot: you and your little sister are basically wandering around town, investigating the going-ons of Maple Town. Without going into spoilers, Cococucumber are taking cues from 80s sci-fi films where kids and aliens are involved. When you put the pieces together after playing through the game for a couple of hours, it’s a kind of narrative where the devs are just mixing in 80s tropes & genre bits they like and just tying it up with a simple “figure out what’s going on” plot. I do feel that it’s missing quite a number of steps in leading the players along to get them invested. Particularly in hinting players where to go next when they’re exploring and giving them any sort of direction.

Echo Generation is a rare case where I had to ask the game’s developer for help with a particular section late in the title. And I’m the kind of guy who has little issues figuring out where to go in titles like Metroid Dread. True, the devs created the game like a 90s JRPG ala Earthbound in mind, but unless you spend your time looking through every nook and cranny in the game’s stage, you will feel lost as to figure out your next steps because of how oblique the game’s design and level structure are.

Explorers

Like I mentioned before, combat is turn-based. You have your regular attacks, your special skills that use Special Points in one shared pool ranging from status effect attacks to buffs, and the ability to guard from special attacks. To get the most out of them, you have to time your button presses; these can be simple “press it when the attack/defend icon is a certain size” to “press a combination of correct buttons to activate a special move”. Once you get the hang of the timing, you’ll be pulling off perfect critical hits or halving damage just fine and dandy.

The game’s combat can get challenging at times, especially with a couple of boss fights (who look really cool, by the by). Some of these heavies can take ages to kill due to its Mars Bars large health and with your team running out of the shared Special Points resource to pull off the stronger and effective attacks. You won’t be getting an SP-refilling item until past the midpoint, so these situations do get tiresome.

And said special attacks sometimes have too precise timings to activate. There’s a skill where you have to align two crosshairs three times for max damage; that requires one frame’s worth of an input, which is pretty tough to pull off especially when it’s in an indie title that looks like it’s catering for teens and above.

Even the tougher enemies require split-second timing to mitigate their seemingly-unfair all-targeting attacks. The feedback and indicators for these attack prompts are so minor, it’s way too easy to deal less damage and unnecessarily eat more, to the point where you need to restart the fights over and over. Echo Generation also pulls off this annoying stunt where if your party gets wiped out, the items you used previously do not reappear, meaning you’ll have to farm the money to repurchase them again.

For the record, there are some sections where enemies don’t seem to respawn when I want to grind them to get some of my party members up to snuff; hopefully, that’s a bug the developers can fix in a launch patch. Because this bug, combined with the aforementioned penalties, make for a pretty unbearable experience where you just want to play a more fine-tuned RPG instead.

Outland

Echo Generation has potential to be an indie darling. Perhaps if it eased up its combat prompts and set some clear goals in its storyline, then it wouldn’t be a pretty but aimless experience that it is now. Do give it a try at least if you want to see how a Stranger Things-inspired game would look like with a voxel look. Or an Earthbound-style RPG without much of the nuances & polish.

Final Score: 60/100

*Review copy provided by the PR representatives of Cococucumber.

Author: Mr Toffee

Mr Toffee is a writer, editor, & all-around video game words guy for 9 years, give or take. He also did some story for games like Chain Chronicle and some podcasting on the side. Likes: bacon, Metallica, jogging. Hates: raccoons, oblivion. Twitter: @MrToffee

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