With games costing between five and ten bucks, it seems that many developers have missed the point of PSP Minis. Really, it feels no different than the regular PlayStation Network Store, lacking those cheap, bite-sized games that the App Store has spoiled its users with.
Fortunately, not all developers have missed the point. Halfbrick's Echoes is a game that seems to understand the best type of PSP Mini. It's easy to get into, simple to control, potentially addictive and, above all, it's cheap.
Of course, just being able to "get" what a PSP Mini is does not automatically qualify a game as good, so read on as we review Echoes.
Like all good indie games, Echoes revolves around a single unique mechanic that it is able to play with in a variety of ways to make it more versatile than one would first assume. The central gimmick here is the generation of past selves, giving it a similar feeling to games like Braid or The Misadventures of PB Winterbottom. However, while those games use past selves as a valuable tool, Echoes uses them as a dangerous opponent.
The game's rather simple concept is this -- the player must collect a variety of crystals that appear on a map. but every time a crystal is collected, it generates an "echo." An echo is a ghostly version of the player that endlessly walks the same path that the player just walked, patrolling back and forth in a spectral mockery of one's past actions. The rub here is that contact with the echo costs a life. Run out of lives, and the map is failed.
The premise is very easy to grasp, but Echoes can get incredibly difficult. Some of the maps, despite being so simple, can quickly fill with echoes and it can be a nightmare to get out of a level in one piece. Constantly being aware of one's actions and knowing when to stop, walk slowly, run or hug the walls is crucial to success, and the relatively single-minded premise can be surprisingly tactical and requires a lot of foresight.
Certain levels help the player out with items, including extra lives, a blade that destroys echoes on contact, a pulse wave that kills all surrounding echoes, a magnet that draws crystals toward the player, and a timer that freezes echoes in their place. Usually these items appear only when they're integral to the map's particular layout.
Echoes has several modes of play as well, demonstrating how one concept can be used in a variety of ways. There is the arcade mode, which charges players with collecting the required number of crystals without losing any lives. Jackpot mode gives players a time limit in which to collect as many crystals as possible, with a score multiplayer for each crystal collected in succession without touching an echo. Survival is a race against the block, with crystals adding time and echoes removing it. Clockwork is perhaps the most interesting mode. Echoes don't move on their own, requiring the player to move them forward or backwards with the shoulder button to get them out of the way.
Echoes is a fun little game that can really tax one's mind, although it's let down by the fact that the PSP control input just doesn't work very well with it. Moving a rather unwieldy character through some of the game's tighter squeezes can be very frustrating, with the analog nub frequently helping to steer the player right into trouble. Using the D-Pad is even worse. There are a number of maps where you can see that the developer wants you to collect crystals in a certain way, but actually moving the character how the developer wants you to is near impossible.
It's a shame that the precision Echoes needs is not evident, because this is still a really clever game that gives the PSP Minis service something worth checking out. It's got some cool music, and the hand-drawn graphics make it stand out and give is a unique look. The production values aren't exactly high, but for what it is, it does the job well.
There's also quite a bit of content. The game's five modes has at least five maps apiece, with the Arcade mode containing many more. Of course, there are also plenty of high scores to beat, with in-game trophies waiting to be unlocked by players who get sucked into the game's potentially addictive world.
Some will get hooked on Echoes' quirky premise, while some will play it for half an hour, discard it, and only deign to go back to it every now and then. Whether it's played forever or tossed aside after only a few minutes, at $2.99, Echoes is worth buying and simply keeping on one's PSP for that boring bus journey or stockholder meeting. It can be needlessly frustrating at times thanks to the control, but it's a good little game that demonstrates exactly what PSP Minis should have been doing from the outset.
Score: 7.0 -- Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.)