I still have Echochrome on my PS3 and every now and then, I give it a go. It’s usually when I’m feeling particularly masochistic and after an hour or two, my horribly confuzled mind wears down and I start randomly spinning the puzzle about, desperately and vainly hoping to alight upon the solution. But I keep going back to it because it’s such an ingenious concept and the pleasant, classy presentation is very appealing to me. This is why I will certainly have to try Echoshift, the much-anticipated follow-up to the aforementioned brain-buster. For now, the game is only confirmed for the PSP but I’m hoping it will appear in downloadable form on the PSN, so PS3 users can also take advantage of this fresh puzzle experience. But this time, rather than perspective being the crux of the issue, it’s more about the time-space continuum, which made Braid so wonderfully – and painfully – addicting.
As you might expect, this game won’t be leaping off the screen with oodles of color and loads of special effects. No, this is all about testing the mind and hence, they are stripping any semblance of flash away from the visual presentation, which leaves us with a game that looks very similar to Echochrome. If you’re not familiar, you can check out the screenshots for both titles but basically, it’s the minimalist approach to graphics: a stick figure, clear black lines that comprise the puzzle, and not much else. But in Echoshift, they do add just a dash of color, which is crucial to your ultimate success. For instance, these colors can be assigned to platforms that must be activated or deactivated depending on your goal, and to do this, you must press a corresponding button of the same color. Doing this will create paths where they didn’t exist before, remove troublesome walls or other obstacles, and eventually, lead you to the door at the end of the level.
Basically, as I said before, it’s all about time…in more ways than one. Not only do you have a time limit for each level (as you did in Echochrome), but you also must take advantage of a special recording mechanic that will allow you to learn from your mistakes. Furthermore, you have to fail during your first few attempts because that will create a layering effect over time that lets you interact with previous attempts. …still with me? Yes? Actually, if you’ve played Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time, you’re familiar with a similar mechanic of “time recording,” which Clank uses during certain levels. This is kinda like that, only it’s guaranteed to be far more complex, especially as you continue to progress through the game. GameSpot used the following as a gameplay example: “you can use your past self to walk to a switch on the far right end of a level so that your future self can cross a gap at the far left end of a level without having to rush back to it.” Sound doable? Maybe.
The difficulty ramps up by adding other considerations, like booby traps that might actually force you to rely on reactions rather than brain activity. The interesting part is exactly how these traps will be implemented and how they affect the time concept. For instance, if a block falls on you, you have to press the Circle button as fast as you can to free yourself but if future and past “selves” get caught beneath it, you can use the combined strength of them all to free yourself faster. That really sounds completely insane but if you spend enough time with it, you may begin to see the light, slowly but surely… Echoshift is one of those games that will torture you with its brutal difficulty superimposed over a false veneer of simplicity, and that alone is enough to be intriguing. The only question is, can you resist chucking your PSP out the window when a particularly tricky puzzle leaves you frustrated beyond belief?
12/10/2009 Ben Dutka