When it comes down to it, your average adventure game usually boils down to either a murder mystery or some kind of Indiana Jones-style unraveling of ancient, arcane secrets. So the sole fact that Echo: Secrets of the Lost Cavern is basically about a young caveman learning how to paint sets it apart from the usual fare published by The Adventure Company. The prehistoric setting and protoshamanistic focus of the story unquestionably lend some unique flavor to the proceedings, but all this Stone Age window dressing doesn't really distract from the fact that Echo is otherwise a by-the-numbers adventure game...and a pretty short one at that.
After assuming the role of a young hunter-gatherer named Arok, the story begins with a lioness attacking you and forcing you to hide yourself in an old cave. Here you find ancient cave paintings that trigger a flashback to an encounter that a younger Arok had with an aged painter named Klem, who was not only an accomplished painter, but who also had the mystical ability to actually make the paintings animate on the walls. Galvanized by this flashback, and armed with a special stone that will help him solve the riddles of the cave, Arok decides that now is the time to find Klem, as well as learn his trade.
The storytelling in Echo is admittedly pretty clumsy. Thankfully, the game is pretty light on the chatter, instead putting the focus on the puzzles you'll need to solve to progress. The puzzles incorporate the whole prehistoric theme of Echo surprisingly well. You'll often have to gather items you find in your environment to build simple survival tools, like slingshots, spears, and waterskins, or even just to start a small fire. There are also a lot of puzzles involving the animated cave paintings that Klem left behind, though you personally don't get to flex your artistic skills as much as you might hope. Instead, the whole "moving paintings" thing sometimes comes off as a bit of a contrivance--an easy way to justify sliding tiles and other visual logic puzzles. The variety of puzzles is pretty good, but the difficulty level seems to be all over the place. At any rate, the game probably won't pose too great a challenge to the well-weathered adventure game fans that still consider themselves adventure game fans. But, even if you aren't a hardcore adventurer, chances are it'll take you well under 10 hours to learn the secrets of the lost cavern. And once you do, there's little reason to go back and do it again.
Echo is a short journey that never gives you the sense that you're on any kind of a grand adventure. However, while it's happening, it's not a bad adventure to look at, despite its reliance on ancient prerendered visuals. There's a somewhat static look to the game, and the interactive pieces don't always mesh well with their backgrounds. But as you explore the prehistoric world of the game, which includes high plateaus, thick and brushy wilderness, and, of course, plenty of caverns, it manages to convey a pretty good sense of place. Unlike many other adventure games, playing from the first-person perspective eliminates the clumsy camera angles and the pacing issues caused by having to watch your character bump around the environments.
There's a suitably tribal feel to the soundtrack that relies on lots of jangled percussion and primal-sounding winds. On the other hand, the voice acting feels like it belongs in another game altogether. It's admittedly difficult to write authentic-sounding caveman dialogue, and it's even harder to sell it without sounding like you're playing it for laughs. But listening to eloquent Cro-Magnon men throw around words like "lumberjack" and "palette" just takes you out of the experience.
There was definitely potential in Echo: Secrets of the Lost Cavern to break away from the standard adventure game model, but it ultimately fails to explore the artistic elements of its premise. Instead, Echo relies on its unique premise to compensate for an otherwise by-the-numbers adventure game.