Review: echoshift

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Time manipulation is the hot new gimmick in puzzle games right now, haven’t you noticed? Seriously, how could you not. Braid seemed to spark the trend, and it has continued into games like The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom and even Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time. The latest game to hop on the bandwagon is echoshift (formerly known as echochrono), a new PSN download title for PSP and sibling to the perspective-based puzzler echochrome.

echoshift is a 2D platform-style puzzle game built around the idea of “self co-op” gameplay. echochrome’s mannequin man is back for more puzzle-solving adventures, but this time you have to figure out how to get him through over 50 brain-teasing stages, flipping switches, climbing stairs, dropping through holes and launching from trampoline pads to successfully reach each level’s exit door before the timer strikes zero.

At a core level, echoshift is closely related to Taito’s PSP (and later DS and XBLA) puzzler Exit, particularly in terms of the simple controls and how the levels are structured. So, chances are if you enjoyed Exit, you’re going to love this game too.

What makes echoshift different, though, is the power it affords you to record “echoes” of your mannequin and then work with these ghostly doppelgangers to circumvent obstacles that would otherwise be insurmountable. At any time, you can pause the game and shift to the next “cast” (or turn), at which point you return to the beginning of the stage and start with a new mannequin while a shadowy clone repeats the recorded actions from your previous turn. This mechanic is most often used to have an echo flip a switch to make a bridge or deactivate a barrier, but they also lend a hand when you need to quickly tear down breakable walls, which requires rapidly mashing the X button a specified number of times, or distract nasty blocks that – channeling the spirit of Boo from Super Mario Bros. – hide when you’re facing them but sprout spikes and begin pursuit whenever you turn the other way.

The puzzles are really well thought out and present a steady sense of progression as different wrinkles regularly add to the core mechanic, with new things like timed switches and barriers, collapsing platforms, and blacked-out levels thrown in to trip you up along the way. The difficulty is also balanced in a way that challenges and rewards experienced players for completing stages quickly and with as few echoes as possible yet is still highly accessible to the casual player. You can have up to nine echoes going at the same time, so if you don’t care about level ratings and completion times you can relax and ease along without ever feeling intellectually outmatched. That doesn’t mean the game is a pushover, though. The puzzles get pretty tricky, and many will have stumped you by the time you reach the end.

One area echoshift does stumble a bit is in its pacing. As you might expect from a game that requires you to continuously stop and start to record echoes and change casts, the gameplay is fairly methodical and, as the puzzles get tougher, the pace of play can become somewhat tedious. Every time you change casts you have to sit through a loading screen and skip through the map overview to get back to playing. The loads are brief, so this interruption amounts to no more than a few seconds. But it’s still an interruption that, for me, got kind of annoying the longer I played.

I also don’t like how there’s no way to revert to a previous cast. If you get stuck in a pit or something and can’t proceed, you can return to the beginning of the stage and carry on from there, but this usually eats up so much time that you might as well start your next cast. I wish there was a way to completely erase your current recording without having to start the stage over from scratch, particularly when attempting to get a high rating for using a limited number of echoes. It can be frustrating to record two or three casts, near the exit and then make an accidental goof that forces you to redo it all again. A simple option to restart the current cast without deleting previous echoes would’ve been much appreciated.

Something echoshift certainly is not wanting for is replay value. At a glance, the $15 price may sound a bit steep, but when you see exactly what this game has to offer, there’s more than enough gameplay to justify the download cost. A total of 56 stages are included — plus an additional seven that are currently available as free DLC until April 1st – and each of those stages is essentially tripled with three different rules to complete per level – there’s the Standard rule of reaching the exit within the time limit, a Key rule in which you first have to find a hidden key to unlock the exit door, and finally a speed-run-promoting Illusion rule that adds the ability to stop time for three seconds per cast.

So yes, if you choose to buy echoshift you’ll certainly get your money’s worth. The puzzles are clever and diverse, levels are in abundant supply, and the minimalist art style and soothing music play the unifying role to perfection. However, the sluggishness of play may not be for everyone, so I’d play it safe and download the demo first.

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Pros:
+ Inventive time-based puzzle designs
+ Lots of levels with special rules prompting numerous replays
+ New wrinkles add variety and constant sense of progression
+ Sharp graphics

Cons:
– Pacing can be pretty tedious
– No way to redo a cast without restarting entire level

Game Info:
Platform: PSP via PSN
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: SCE Japan Studio and Artoon
Release Date: 2/25/2010
Genre: Puzzle
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!