Echoes is the first of Australian developer Halfbrick’s eagerly awaited Xbox Live Community games to be ported over to the PSP as a mini, and it really does seem perfectly suited to the platform. It’s got that slightly anarchic, unusual, and quirky streak running through it that’s so often the stamp of independent developers.
Although it’s essentially just a game where you collect crystals and avoid baddies, a concept as old as the hills, the simple yet ingenious level design makes it feel fresh and new.
The story, such as it is, revolves around a young artist called Charlie who has been mysteriously whisked away to a bizarre dream world one day while studying art, which explains the broad brushstrokes and pastel colors of the strange locations she finds herself in.
All you see of Charlie is the top of her hat, but that’s more than enough to effectively convey the impression of a little lost girl zipping around the levels rather than a boring yellow disc. That’s actually one of the really impressive aspects of the game, the way in which the simple things work so well.
At the start, only Arcade Mode is available to play, with the bonus modes being unlocked as you work your way through the levels. The gameplay basics are always the same (collect the crystals, avoid the baddies!), all that differs is what you have to do to finish the level.
In Arcade Mode you simply have to collect a certain number of crystals before losing all your life hearts. This is easier said than done, as whenever Charlie collects a crystal, her own footsteps create shadow footsteps or ‘Echoes’ that extinguish one life heart if she touches them.
As the Echoes are a product of Charlie’s own movement, it doesn’t always pay to zoom around at top speed – the faster she moves, so do the Echoes. Likewise, it’s not a good idea to stand still otherwise they’ll all hone in on you! That’s all part of the fun of working out how you want to play the game though.
As well as the regular blue crystals, there are lots of other power-up crystals that are gradually introduced into the game the further you get. These include Blade crystals that make you invulnerable for a short period, Magnet crystals that draw other crystals towards you, and Time crystals which temporarily freeze the Echoes, although they are still deadly if hit.
Progress in Arcade Mode earns you access to three other modes – Jackpot, Survival, and Clockwork. In Jackpot, you have to rack up the highest score you can within 60 seconds. It’s fun to just go crazy and not worry about hitting the Echoes and dying in this mode!
In Survival, you start with just 10 seconds on the clock, with the aim of grabbing as many crystals as you can before time runs out. Collecting crystals increases time, whereas hitting Echoes loses time. It can get pretty manic when the seconds are ticking down, but there’s a Low Time Bonus to help you collect as many crystals as you can when you’re almost out of seconds.
Things get even more complicated with Clockwork, where you can control the flow of time and therefore the movement of the Echoes with the L and R buttons. Your ultimate goal here is quite tricky too – collect as many crystals as possible without hitting an Echo. As soon as you hit one, the level ends.
Echoes is a really light, fun, enjoyable game. The controls are effortless, the different modes are interesting and varied, and you want to keep going just to see all the amazingly inventive level designs (a bird, holey cheese, a peace sign, a map of Australia, etc!), and then when you’ve unlocked everything, there are lots of different achievement trophies to earn, so it should be a good while before you get bored.