Review: Echoshift (PSP)
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I’m good at puzzle games. Echochrome was the first PSN game I bought and I loved it. Such gems as Lumines Supernova, Cuboid, Trash Panic (rubbish, literally), Zuma, Puzzle Quest Galactrix, Droplitz, Critter Crunch, Peggle, Switchball and others followed. I sit with my PSP during those moments of boredom and crank out the odd Sudoku and Kakuro with Telegraph’s Sudoku mini (which I can strongly recommend). So I’m no stranger to brain cell destruction. Weed helps too.
Echoshift is not to be confused with Echochrome. They look similar and they sound similar, but that is where the comparisons end. These are completely unrelated games and should be treated as such. Echoshift is a 2D platformer with a unique twist: time periodically rewinds. It doesn’t sound too traumatic at first but trust me, after just a couple of levels you’ll be thanking the gods they didn’t make this in 3D.
The premise is simple: in each level you have a cast of echoes (characters). On your first play, you guide your first echo around the platforms pressing switches to open doors and trying to make it to the exit, but you’ll be beset by one of three problems: either there isn’t enough time to do everything needed, hitting a certain switch leaves you stuck (fallen down a hole to reach the switch for example), or you have to be in several places at once to unlock the path to the exit. Once you run out of time – which is usually 20-60 seconds depending on the level – or you choose to skip to the next echo, the level will repeat from the start, except all of the movements you’ve made so far will be repeated by ghost echoes who precisely follow your actions on your previous goes, while you get to control a new one. Picture the scene: you need to stand on two buttons to open a door. You place the first echo on one of the buttons, rewind, place the second echo on the other button, rewind, then walk to the exit through the open door with the third echo.
You get 9 echoes (chances) to complete each level, with a higher ranking for using fewer echoes. I have to stress here that the level design is absolutely brilliant in its cunning and pure evil. Moving platforms, one-shot switches, switches that only work when stood on, switch groups that must all be activated, platforms that dissolve at a certain time, doors which only open at a certain time, switches which can only be activated for a certain length of time, moving holes, jump pads, walls and cubes which fall on your head and require the hammering of X to break, blocks which run after you and kill you unless you face them, levels you have to play in the dark, to name just a few of the mind-bending devices of torment which lie before you with the purchase of Echoshift. This game never stops throwing new stuff at you, right to the very end: even on the last group of levels, new gameplay mechanics are introduced via a hint system which appears at the beginning of any stage with a new object type, showing a handy animation explaining how to use the item.
Even the early levels will seem like a challenge until you go back to them later and realise how easy they were; the later ones will blow your mind. There is usually more than one way to complete a level so working out the fastest way to get the higher rankings will tax you heavily. At the beginning of each echo, you can scroll around the level and zoom in and out for as long as you wish before the timer starts, and this is very helpful for planning out what to do next.
Imagine the scene once again: there are two doors and two buttons you must stand on, one for each door. Moving off the button causes the door to close. You could use three echoes: one for each button and one to walk to the exit. Or you could make the first echo stand on the first button for a few seconds, then move him to the second button; then use deft timing with your second echo to go through the doors as the first echo causes them to open and close. In this way you save one echo, but timing is key. The level timing is perfectly balanced and it’s typical to complete a level with under 1 second remaining.
Don’t think you’re only going to be playing through the levels once each, either. Each level has 3 modes: cast, key and illusion. In cast, you just have to reach the exit. In key mode, the level is the same but there is a key somewhere on the level which must also be collected to unlock the exit. Illusion mode is the same as cast mode except you can pause time on and off for a maximum of 3 seconds per echo – which sounds fairly irrelevant but it can completely change the way you play a level. With 56 layouts (for a total of 168 level/mode combinations), you’re not going to finish this anytime soon. On top of that, unlocking the later levels require you to reach certain rankings in certain earlier level groups, so you will frequently have to go back to improve your performance. Some of you may just choose to play through the standard cast mode – completion time will be perhaps 8-10 hours if you’re good, but I suspect many if not all of us are going to need quite a bit longer than that. This is the sort of game you can dip in and out of and play for a few minutes at a time, so there’s plenty of weeks of frustration ahead of you here if you play in moderation.
There are also seven slots at the bottom of the level selection page for DLC. It seems that two free levels are being released each week so I am not sure if they will continue when all the slots are full, but of the three DLC levels I checked out I can assure you they are insanely complicated and will keep you tearing your hair out for a while.
The controls are accurate and responsive. If you fail a level, you know it’s because you screwed up and not the game, which is essential in puzzlers. Presentation is average, nothing special. Simple menus and flat-shaded black-and-white levels with coloured switches and doors are the mainstay. There is nothing wrong with this for a puzzle game, it’s just nothing exciting. Each set of seven levels has its own music, some of which will annoy you and have you reaching for the mute button; others are fine. It’s saxophone-cum-world music.
My primary problem with Echoshift besides the annoying music is the loading time between echoes. I don’t really understand why there is a loading time at all when the level is already in memory, but it takes 5-7 seconds to re-load after each echo, which doesn’t sound much but when you consider that you only control your echo for 20-60 seconds at a time and you sometimes need many echoes to finish, this gets quite annoying quite quickly. My other main gripe is the inclusion of reflex-based objects such as the blocks which chase you and the falling cubes which require you to press X 50 or 100 times to release you from them. While this is still clever and presents great potential for mayhem – presses stack between echoes so you can get past the breakable cubes and walls faster and faster on each echo, which changes the level dynamic – I could’ve done without this personally. I always dislike puzzle games that are primarily physics or analysis-based but then feel the need to throw in baddies with introduce either a non-deterministic factor, or require you to be fast at button-mashing. This slightly detracts from all such puzzle games in my opinion, however in Echoshift there are fortunately only a few levels with these items in.
One less significant factor is the price. At £11.99 on the PSP store, that is £4 more expensive than Echochrome, which was a full PS3 game with a level editor and more or less unlimited DLC download slots. It is somewhat balanced out by Echoshift’s original concept and ingenious level design, and the fact each level can be played in three different modes, but I still feel it is just a touch on the expensive side. £9.99 would’ve been perfect, but this shouldn’t stop you from purchasing.
- Good number of levels, excellent level design
- Simple, well-designed interface suited for the nuances of the game
- Playable in short bursts when you’re travelling
- Loading times are a tad long
- Annoying music
- May be too hard for some players; requires a lot of patience
Overall, this is a great puzzle game that should keep fans of the genre happy for quite a while. Please bear in mind when considering this game that Echoshift is hard, and it is meant to be hard. If you have a rough time with earlier levels on the likes of Cuboid and Critter Crunch, this may not be for you; for everyone else who are fans of brain bending puzzle games, if you have the patience and stamina, this is an easy recommendation.