Echo Generation is an interesting indie game released earlier this year on Xbox, PC and Game Pass. It’s a mix of Paper Mario combat, adventure game puzzles and beautiful voxel art.
The story is one you’d be familiar with if you’ve ever seen Stranger Things, or other paranormal 80’s shows. Two young siblings and their pet – which could be anything from a cat, to a robot, to an alien cat – make some creepy, supernatural discoveries in their suburban town and decide to take care of it themselves, since the adults are incompetent.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Echo Generation is another wholesome release cashing in on some nostalgia, at least from the opening. The game welcomes you with massive, pixelated grins on every face and a charismatic 8-bit theme playing, which could’ve been ripped straight from a Pokémon game. The tutorial section pits you up against bad-mouthed racoons as you rummage through neighbours’ trash in your white-picket-fenced suburbia.
As I ran around the streets with my cat and younger sister, I wasn’t just reminded of the 80’s – when I was approximately minus-20 years old – I was also reminded of my own childhood in the 2000s. The sights and sounds were distinctly old school, but it was the benign adventuring that had me reminiscing of my childhood days wandering through nearby streets – at least if you remove the part about beating up racoons. As far as first impressions go, Echo Generation seems like a snuggly blanket; this is what retro games would feel like if they were made today. It’s cute, it’s happy and it wants you to be happy, playing out in your neighbourhood with the same street kids.
But something turns a bit sinister after a while. Echo Generation’s disturbing creature design, spooky environments and occasional jumpscares morphed my experience with the town. The game graduates from raccoon fights to battles with a towering worm pretty quickly. After my first encounter with a twisted, murderous clown, the permanent toothy smiles and wide eyes didn’t feel welcoming, they just felt odd. The frequent blunt, dark humour also contributes to deforming the town and making it all feel a bit contradictory. This is a well seeming town with something askew beneath the surface. Of course, the supernatural monsters have a part to play in that but it’s the town itself that feels off.
My suspicions surfaced when I gained access to the school headmaster’s basement. Sure, I broke into the school to steal his keys. And, sure, I guess I was trespassing when I entered his house in the first place, but the kids made him sound like a dictator and I still have bad memories of strict teachers. In the end, I was justified as all that was down there was a toddler trapped in a cage. His face was uncanny and the basement was more than a little eerie. After a boss fight with the creep I realised that I was right, there was a rot in the town that went further than the supernatural occurrences. Maybe it’s a commentary on how our childhoods are never innocent in hindsight. Maybe it’s saying something about how disturbed things can be, despite outside appearances. Or maybe Echo Generation is just a really weird game. Either way, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
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