Echo Generation makes every good first impression it can make. You see a kid in a letterman jacket chugging through economic collapse, from dense cornfields to Mr. Rogers neighborhoods. Tentacled clouds point to a crash-landed alien vessel. Everything is composed of tiny voxels for that high-rez Minecraftian look. You tackle this pre-cellular era with its lovely, messy eye for CRT monitors, creepy clowns, brutalist government buildings, and sunsets dipping behind cratered lakes. And since this game is made in Canada, you're ready when that nasty-looking Wendigo drops into the scene—picture Bigfoot with antlers and you’re on the right track.
Echo Generation has JRPG-based combat laced with real-time minigame attacks. Your name is whatever you name yourself, and you've got a little sister and Meowsy the cat rounding out the party. Again, because this game is Canadian, the first special attack from Whatever You Named Yourself is a Hockey Smash attack.
Character selection starts on a sunny day in your faux wood paneled bedroom. E.T. and Jurassic Park posters line the walls. Polaroids pin up over Etch A Sketches, flanked by boomboxes and lava lamps. You’re rocking an Atari, a Super NES, and a desktop PC. This kid’s parents are obviously zillionaires. But this is what us youngest Gen X’ers and/or oldest Millennials grew up on. Welcome to the earliest of '90s.
You have a few character choices. Are you a word nerd in an alphabet sweater and cargo shorts? More of that poster-child letterman jacket and holey jeans kind of kid? Turns out I'm a redhead in Christmas plaid and a bear beanie. I name her Roxy, I guess.
Developer Cococucumber asserts Canadian politeness and high-sticking hockey into a turn-based Stranger Things. Okay, Roxy with the fox shirt and chunky white tennies, it’s time to track down the voxel-based supernatural in your small-town stomping grounds. Time to press X to investigate the halcyon neo-nostalgia.
The first thing I collect is money. But the second thing I collect is a cassette that is the “Intro” to Alien Skin Eaters—some spooky ambience that pairs up with the Alien Skin Eaters script I’m writing on the PC. I read all my emails about setting up a Dungeons & Dragons night with my buds, and then that’s about it for emails.
Dad has been gone for some time, never to return. Mom needs a day off from the girls. Grandma hands out fresh-baked cookies from her porch next door. I haven’t traveled two houses yet, but the fetch quests stack up with a vengeance. Little sister wants a traffic cone. Neighborhood dog wants a bone. The treehouse gang a couple doors down wants Christmas Lights. I want to research some romance for my Alien Skin Eaters script, a German Shepherd wants to police everything, and every raccoon just wants to fight.
The stakes are low at first, but the combat doesn’t give you very long (at all) to read the instructions in real time (despite the game being turn-based). You see, each attack is attached to increasingly complicated minigames to pull off those attacks. Throw a max-damage punch just by hitting the button at the right time. Hit ‘em with a hockey stick after timing the Pole Position greenlight. Throw a random up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right combo for an even stronger attack.
After the horror-based tension is relieved from facing off against the monster of the week, the tension then shifts to these minigame attacks. Since there’s not enough time to read all the instructions on your first try, you’ll naturally be terrible at them. Try those special attacks a second and third time, however, and you start to pick up what they’re putting down. You’ll be sent to your room to take a nap for some hit point recovery. More than once. But you’ll figure out how to give those trash pandas a timing-based whoopin’.
Gain enough XP and you level up how much damage you can take, how much damage you can dish out, and how many special attacks you can muster per round of combat. Simple progression.
Echo Generation is deflating when you have a wonderful convergence of music and art and coming-of-age nostalgia...all lost inside of a fetch-quest mission structure. It feels like they had some lo-fi spooky beats to Trick-or-Treat to, along with busy LEGO art in mind all along, but couldn’t figure out how to make any of it interesting to explore. They earn their joke a couple hours in, but boy was I getting tired of searching empty trash cans for nothing.
Not having a mission log or a map of any sort are baffling exclusions, especially with so much tit-for-tat gameplay, and so much back-and-forth side questing. I’d set the game aside for a couple days and couldn’t remember how much I’d done, let alone what was next. Who needs this fishbone? The only solution was to talk to each and every person over again. Not ideal, since everybody typically has only one thing to say. Thanks for reminding me I already got a cookie today, though, grandma. Yeesh.
I’ve gone through wordy, repetitive conversations on repeat until finally, at the end, the mission-giver realized I had the thing they were looking for all along. It finally completes the side quest. It’s a game where missing one detail, or failing to pick up one quest item, brings all gameplay to a standstill. You know what you won’t miss? You won’t miss your talking cat making a Joseph Stalin joke about corn and potatoes. Grinding has been such an unpopular design choice in single-player games for so many years now that...I couldn’t believe I was grinding in this single-player game. Both with the fighting and the dialogue.
I love all the horror tropes Echo Generation touches bases with. For fans of the Puppet Master there are marionettes. For fans of H.P. Lovecraft, there is an alien squid. For fans of homegrown serial killer documentaries, there’s a school principal that knows every child’s favorite toy and keeps a very locked basement. Cornfields, TVs with static, Rats of Unusual Size, all of which are popular with the horror set. And The Princess Bride fanbase.
There are even more non-horror references to popular culture. There’s the Dukes of Hazzard car sitting in a junkyard. An it’s-bigger-on-the-inside treehouse. A Super Mario Bros. mushroom that makes you stronger. Echo Generation is more Ready Player One than Stranger Things.
Yes, Echo Generation puts its best foot forward. Then it's all two steps back. With great spooky music and a voxel-rich art style, I was ready to like everything I saw and heard. But my sense of dread was increasingly less about monster boss fights, and more about combat grinding and looping dialogue.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Randy gravitates toward anything open world, open ended, and open to interpretation. He prefers strategy over shooting, introspection over action, and stealth and survival over looting and grinding. He's been a gamer since 1982 and writing critically about video games for over 15 years. A few of his favorites are Skyrim, Elite Dangerous, and Red Dead Redemption. He lives with his wife and daughter in Oregon.View Profile