New dev on the block Cococucumber turned some heads in 2020 when it revealed the voxelized suburban sci-fi RPG that is Echo Generation. This game was brought to show during the early reveals of gaming on the Xbox Series X and S, and now it’s finally available. Does it live up the Stranger Things and Spielberg vibe it puts out? For the most part, yes. Echo Generation straps an interesting narrative, vibing soundtrack, and gorgeous visuals to an RPG style comparative to Super Mario RPG or Paper Mario. It doesn’t always work, but Echo Generation surely is something else.
Just your average town bordering a top-secret base
Echo Generation puts you in the role of an average Canadian kid who loves movies and wants to make one of their own. You live with your sister and mom in Maple Town where raccoons will fist fight you and a child-abducting maniac is on the loose. There’s also a top-secret research facility run by military corporation FST nearby. Also, your dad has been missing for years after going to work for FST, or so you thought. When an alien ship crashes in a nearby cornfield, you find your dad’s work ID among the more unfortunate of the crew. That sets you and your sister off on a journey to get to the bottom of the strange things happening in Maple Town.
Echo Generation is a wacky trip packed with all sorts of nods to other media. It runs the gamut in its tone between highly lighthearted and funny to downright creepy and unsettling. You and your friends’ camaraderie and love of schlocky movies and comics like “Bunzilla”, even in terrifying situations no kid should be in, gives the game a vibe that reminds me of The Goonies or Super 8. Figuring out the alien visitors and what happened to your dad with your sister and friends is also a genuinely intriguing journey.
The only thing that lost me in the story is that a lot of this game is heavy on fetch quest stuff, i.e. finding [item] in one place and taking it to another place to get [item]. Much of the game is reliant on that and when you reach the end of one thread of the narrative, it can be tough to find the next. It doesn’t really handhold you or give you any blatant or cohesive directions either. You just need to check everything. There was more than one time where I exhausted all routes and ideas for what to do next and began just searching the entirety of what I had unlocked of Maple Town. It took hours to come across esoteric solutions I never would have come to if I didn’t check literally every corner available to me. Without getting spoilery, I’ll just say there’s a companion that turns out to be necessary more than once to move forward and also a phone in an office that can be easily missed.
Echo Generation also feels as though it tries to do a little too much to tie a ribbon on things at the end. It’s an eclectic game and it goes a lot of places. There's lots of aliens, a boss ripped right out of Bloodborne, and a military complex with spider tanks that feel like they should be in Wasteland 3. For the most part, that’s all pretty fun stuff. However, when it comes time to wrap up, it feels like a lot of details conveniently come together all at once to close out the ending. I wouldn’t say “rushed,” so much as it feels breakneck how much everything ties up before it blasts you into the credits. Still, the journey is better than the destination and I appreciate the variety of narrative and visuals on the way there.
I also really appreciate the music and atmosphere throughout Echo Generation. It’s a really chill lo-fi mix that has a lot of moods to it. I could listen to the town music for hours on end, but there’s also unsettling music used to great effect in the game’s more frightening parts. The battle and boss music is also really top notch, though I did notice that much of the music seemed to cut abruptly at times and go back to its start before continuing in what were janky loop transitions. It was especially noticeable because of how often I’d find myself vibing to a track only for it to fade out and quickly fade back in at the song’s start.
Time your presses for max damage
Interestingly enough, Echo Generation is mostly an RPG that feels like a system ripped right out of the Paper Mario and Super Mario RPG games. You will engage in battle frequently throughout the game and when you do, it’s a turn-based JRPG-like affair. More than that, Echo Generation borrows from those games by tying your attacks, skills, and defense to various timed presses and minigame gimmicks that bring out their full effectiveness. For instance, if you hit the confirm button when a bubble fills up on your main attack, you’ll get a critical hit for your maximum possible damage. Miss the press and your attack will be less effective. Conversely, enemies also have a bubble that you can time to defend against their attacks, making them deal less or more damage depending on your timing.
Skills also have unique properties like this. Some demand a timed button press, others require a sequence of different buttons be input within a time limit or mashing a button to fill a meter, and still others are rhythm minigames. The only issue I have with this is that some are far harder to hit than others and the penalty for missing on them outweighs their effectiveness in a crucial fight. Using them frequently certainly helps build muscle memory, but it’s hard to vouch for wasting a turn on a fancy high damage attack-that causes bleeding over turns if you can’t hit the timing that causes the high damage or the bleeding. Yes, status effect moves are tied to success on the attack’s minigame gimmick. I generally ended up abandoning these moves in favor of others that I felt confident in hitting.
For your party, you will almost always have yourself, your sister, and a swappable companion as your third. It starts as your cat, who is capable of casting healing on all of you. However, you can gather more companions through the game, and also comic books with which to expand you and your companions’ available skills. I really liked how the comic books would translate to different attack effects, for example a Naruto-like comic showing your sister how to use poisoned shuriken. Enemies are generally fun and interesting throughout the game too, featuring all sorts of gimmicks to defend against and work around.
Despite all this, I really wasn’t fond of the grindy nature of leveling up and getting stronger in Echo Generation. It takes a lot of fighting the same Wererats and raccoons over and over to get yourself to a state where you feel effective. Worse, your third companions all start at level 1, do not rubberband with your party’s current experience, and do not level up when not directly in combat. Getting a new companion often means going back and grinding the same enemies you’ve been fighting over and over so you can have them in shape for when the real battles happen. It drags the game out a lot and not in a good way – especially when you’re on the cusp of a big new step in the otherwise good narrative and just want to move forward.
Things that are increasingly strange
There’s a lot I like about Echo Generation. The adolescent youth in sci-fi suburbia story is really charming and aided thoroughly by the game’s gorgeous voxel visuals and delicious soundtrack. There were definitely some parts held down by archaic design decisions, such as the utter lack of a hint system or direction and the need to grind experience, especially on new party members. However, Echo Generation also has a lot of fun tried and true RPG design to it as well. All-in-all, it makes for a game where the good journey, music, and combat will likely overcome most of the distracting missteps you may come across.
This review is based on a digital copy of the game played on PC. Echo Generation comes out on October 21, 2021 on Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC via the Windows Store.
- Varied and eclectic narrative
- Gorgeous voxelated environments to explore
- Super chill and good soundtrack
- Engaging turn-based combat system
- Experience is extremely grindy
- Every companion starts out at level 1
- Music has weird loop transitions
- Solutions sometimes feel extremely esoteric