Poetry in Motion: GeekDad Reviews Halfbrick Echoes

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From the early days of Pong to the golden age of Mario and Sonic and even in this current era of slickly produced racers and frenetic run-and-gun titles, videogames have always been about movement. Late last year, Australian developer Halfbrick Studios sought to distill this concept down to its primal essence with the release of Echoes via PlayStation Network and Xbox Live.

Imagine, if you will, a high-concept reinvention of Pac-Man wherein the analog stick is used to control an on-screen heroine, represented on a top-down plane by nothing more than broad-brimmed hat, who busily collects crystals, all the while avoided the requisite ghosts. The clincher is that the “ghosts” in question are echoes of your own player character that mimic her movements while ceaselessly retracing the path between each collected crystal.

Though power-ups are available that allow you to slow down or destroy these wandering spirits, your primary focus is simply on avoiding them, as each touch costs you a life. This is further complicated by the delicate nature of each of the game’s maze-like levels and the veritable scrum of echoes that amass as you proceed to collect more and more crystals. Eventually you either gather enough crystals to complete the map and advance, or find yourself hopelessly undone by your own chaotic movements. To its credit, the game goes to great lengths to drive you toward the former while keeping you keenly aware of the latter.

Perhaps you find yourself navigating a ghost-choked world perched precariously atop a pock-marked slice of cheese, narrowly skirting past shambling echoes within a narrow and winding piece of Celtic knot-work or pressing your character against the wall to avoid the death-touch while tracing the outline of an ominous watercolor raven. It’s exactly this sort of minimalist approach – both with regard to the straight-forward gameplay and the uncomplicated art design – that makes Echoes such an addictive title. In a market saturated with poorly-conceptualized micro-games, it succeeds by focusing on a single aspect and really committing to doing it well.

My review copy of the title was provided via the PSP’s new Mini marketplace, and, in addition to the core “Arcade” mode, it features a number of supplementary game types. “Jackpot” and “Survival” challenge players to amass a high score while both avoiding echoes and racing against the clock, while “Clockwork” mode leans more toward puzzle-solving by generating stationary echoes at each crystal pick-up point that the user may move forward or backward through time with the shoulder buttons.

As you’ve no doubt come to expect from Halfbrick, Echoes oozes style. From its accessible gameplay to its unique brand of art direction (that even permeates the title’s intuitively manipulated menus) to its ambient and always appropriate background music, it’s a tiny game with big personality. Hell, in a quarter that saw the release of heavy-hitters like LitteBigPlanet PSP, it still managed to dominate my play time!

At a $2.99 price point, it’s an easy recommendation for PSP owners across the board. Echoes offers both style and substance for a pittance, and that truly helps it stand out as one of the best offerings from the PlayStation Network’s fledgling Minis line.

Wired: charming design, simple but pleasing play mechanic, nice use of sound effects/music, great price

Tired: Wii, DSi and iPhone owners are left out of the fun

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