As soon as I found myself using a red-and-white hockey stick to fight a trash-talking raccoon, I knew I would like Echo Generation.
Developed by Toronto-based Cococucumber (Riverbond), Echo Generation is an adventure RPG that’s best described as a mix between Earthbound and Stranger Things. By taking the RPG mechanics of the former, the supernatural elements of the latter and throwing in its own lovably unique tone, the Canadian indie game proves to be quite enjoyable.
Right from the start, the game moves at a welcome brisk pace that keeps things interesting. After a brief intro in your home where you’re able to pick your teenaged hero’s name and gender, you’re off to explore your rural Canadian town. I appreciated being able to quickly get out, explore and fight enemies like the aforementioned raccoon (and, soon after, his tougher cousins). You’re soon introduced to mysterious alien appearances in your hometown, leading you, your little sister and an assortment of other recruitable allies to investigate.
A key reason that this quaint setup works is the gorgeous voxel-based artwork. The blocky character models and environments are crisp and absolutely pop with colour, especially in 4K (with 60fps support) on Xbox Series X. This really brings the game’s fictional Canadian ‘Maple Town’ to life. All the while, that name, alongside elements like the plethora of hockey-related decor and Ontario-esque highway signs, effectively lend Echo Generation a wonderfully Canadian vibe.
While the plot and characters are somewhat thin, the game’s charmingly quirky sense of humour more than makes up for that. In one instance, I was given a dialogue option to try to calm tensions between a raccoon and FBI agent who were going at it. But they actually found themselves more frustrating by my interference that they put aside their differences to take me on together. Another moment had me try to take a bone from a skeleton in a graveyard for a quest, only for him to question how I would like it if he nabbed one of my limbs.
These bits of levity are especially welcome because Echo Generation can be surprisingly difficult, and not always in a rewarding way. Like many classic JRPGs, Echo Generation features a turn-based combat system. Admittedly, it’s fairly basic, but there’s one notable element that shakes things up: mini-games. Each time you dish out an attack, you’re prompted to follow the on-screen prompts to do more damage.
This can be as simple as pressing ‘A’ at the right time or mashing A quickly enough to small memory-based matching puzzles. On the one hand, I appreciated that these were quite varied and kept combat engaging, but they also feel punishing in that failing to pull them off can make you deal a fair bit less damage. Further, this minigame system applies for incoming attacks, where failure is even more grave, as you can take significant hits to your HP as a result. The hard-hitting enemies, coupled with the somewhat scarce supply of healing items (particularly those for ‘SP,’ which is effectively ‘MP’), make Echo Generation feel overly punishing at times.
Thankfully, exploring Maple Town and its surrounding areas to complete optional quests is more consistently fun. On a base level, I appreciated the game’s environmental variety. In one area, I fought goofy skeletons in a graveyard and then proceeded to meet a talkative squirrel in a pleasant marsh; in the next, I was helping an old lady cross the road downtown before facing off against a satanic supernatural creature in the school hallways. That monster, in particular, emphasizes how the game can quickly go from lighthearted to spooky, which helps keep your moment-to-moment exploration feel fresh.
It’s also rewarding. Beyond finding more healing items, you can come across comic books that teach your party new unique moves. Whether it was a hockey stick attack for my main character that could cause HP-draining ‘Bleed’ damage, a powerful uppercut for my little sister or a healing move for my cat, I routinely found useful new abilities as I went along. I do wish, however, that the game had some sort of quest tracker. While the lack of such a navigational tool does add to the game’s old-school feel, it’s also frustrating at times. At one point, I had stopped playing the game for a couple of days and found myself a bit lost and what I was supposed to do at that moment.
In the end, Echo Generation is a nice little treat of a game. While its combat system can feel basic and frustrating at times, the game’s charm, delightful art style and diverse Canadian-inspired locales make it absolutely worth playing.
Echo Generation is now available on Xbox consoles and PC (via the Microsoft Store). The game is also included with Xbox Game Pass for Console and PC.
Image credit: Cococucumber