Welcome to Game Spotlight, the feature where I will be bringing you all the information you need about great games that are sadly, hardly known to anybody. There are many fantastic games buried out there, amidst the carnage of the mainstream games of today.
Previous Game Spotlight: Metal Fatigue
We're all familiar with shoot 'em ups. There have been many of them released such as Gradius, R-type, Galaga, Ikaruga, 1942, Geometry Wars etc. But most shoot 'em ups all have one thing in common: The enemies have attack paterns. No matters how many enemies can be crammed onto the screen or how many bullets go flying, anyone with enough patience can learn to survive a level with ease.
Echoes, a freeware game from Binary Zoo, is unlike those many shoot 'em ups. The game plays much like the cl@ssic game Asteroids, only you can move freely without having to wait for your ship to accelerate and the visuals make you feel like you're on an ecstasy trip. It can really be summed up with the phrase "Asteroids on crack". The game sends wave after wave of asteroids which break up into smaller asteroids which all bounce around in random directions. In Echoes, there is the addition of power-ups and some new and very tough enemies.
This isn't your typical shoot 'em up by any means, but it doesn't do anything you having seen before. Rather, it's the way it blends the cl@ssic Asteroids gameplay, excellent movement and stunning visuals. As well as shooting down asteroids, you will also encounter asteroid belts in which a row of red asteroids will follow you, black holes which spew out small asteroids and a whole ton of them when destroyed and there are meteors which appear from off screen and zoom across to the other side. If you make it to the last wave, you will also encounter the sun which is the largest target and will fire meteors towards you whenever you hit it.
Echoes isn't an easy game, in fact it's very hard. Part of the reason is because it's completely unpredictable. It's never the same game each time you play it. Thankfully, it controls great. Your ship moves instantly to the direction you want it too. You can control using the mouse, with the keyboard and aim with the mouse or a joypad (Tough if you don't have one, using the keyboard for both is still a good option).
There are power-ups that drop to aid you. There is a weapon upgrade, health recover and a power-up which fires eight powerful bullets. You'll want to keep your weapon as powerful as possible, otherwise you'll really struggle to make it passed some of the waves. Luckily, your ship can take allot of punishment, and you never need to take your eyes off the action. A large circle around your ship decreases in size and changes colour whenever you loose health.
Echoes wouldn't be nearly as thrilling, if it wasn't for the visuals. There are tons of particles effects that can appear on screen at once, with minimal slowdown. Motion blur makes it easy on the eyes, and asteroids leave trials as they speed past. All the while, the screen flashes whenever something is destroyed. It's a subtle, but nice effect. Nothing is more satisfying than destroying a large asteroid and hearing a "KABOOM!" while it echoes around your room. You can adjust and even turn off the effects, but it will detract from the gameplay.
If your looking for a different kind of shoot 'em up which offers visceral gameplay and great visual effects, then Echoes is for you. Unfortunately, there are no leaderboards so you may feel there is no purpose to play the game after a while. There are "Zoots" in the game which are like XBLA achievements, but they're very hard to achieve and obtaining half of them unlocks a lackluster "Crack" minigame. You simply destroy a large asteroid which shoots indestructible asteroids towards you and repeat until you die.
Head over to binaryzoo.com if you wish to download and play the game for free. Oh, just for the record, the footage in the first half of the gameplay montage was played on medium. The second half was on the easy difficulty setting.