Sci-fi entertainment properties have a tendency to borrow from one another (be it by design or entirely by accident), and Echo Prime is a game that takes no shame in borrowing. Its simple plot, seen-before setting, and mildly sapless art style are a clear amalgamation of anything and everything you’d expect to find in your run-of-the-mill sci-fi caper. Despite this, Echo Prime finds a way to not only bring reasonably original ideas to the table, but actually lift two whole thirds of an existing game’s title: Metroid Prime Echoes. Since this is clearly a subliminal twist of predestined fate, I propose a new idea – a grand collaboration between Nintendo and the fine folks at Robot Entertainment. It will be beautiful, and when it’s finally done, it will be called Metroid Prime Echoes: Echo Prime. Nintendo, Robot – you guys can thank me later.
Development on the new game will no-doubt take years, so in the meantime I’ve taken the liberty of playing Echo Prime in its current form on Steam. The Steam release comes three or so months after Prime’s debut on iDevices, and according to the friendly animatrons at Robot, it features a slew of upgrades and improvements over the original. Among them are PC optimized mappable hotkeys, improved visuals, more enemies and environments, more gear – essentially just more. More everything. All of this only matters, of course, if the core game is enjoyable, and despite some conspicuous gameplay pitfalls and an unabashed utilization of sci-fi genre tropes, Echo Prime is indeed a lively and fun experience.
Prime begins by thrusting you into the shoes of an at-first nameless spaceman, tasked with reaching an escape pod before a spacecraft is destroyed. Some stuff happens with aliens and a black hole, and before you know it there are these things called Echoes that give you enhanced powers and capabilities. It makes more logical sense in context, but narrative resolution is pretty irrelevant – the point is, Echoes are your key to success, and grant you powers ranging from stat-boosters and new attacks to heals and even passive abilities. The fact that you’re actually collecting parallel alien consciousnesses from another world can be embraced or entirely ignored with little to no impact on enjoyment level.
The game consists of core missions and side missions, and despite being supposedly randomly generated, I can’t say I experienced a whole lot of variation with the main story-advancing objectives. The environments cycle through a few different looks, and though the idea that each person’s campaign will be different due to level generation on the fly is cool, I couldn’t help but feel that this may actually have prevented more creative game-areas from surfacing. Also odd is the fact that early on, you can easily advance with just your weapons. Clubbing space pirates with your sword or shooting them in the face is a more-than-adequate strategy for far too long, and it almost makes you wonder if Echoes are even worth it during the early stages.
Then, the game does somewhat of a one-eighty; as Echoes become stronger and you earn shorter cooldown times, they begin to feel overpowered. Enemies are obliterated with ease, and by the end of the game I began to feel as though my immense power had sapped the strategy elements straight out of the gameplay. Sure, I could still plan carefully for immersion’s sake if I felt compelled, but the urge to just plow through and ruin the opposition always seemed to prevail. It’s great feeling like a god, but the novelty wears off. Luckily, the side missions offer a more varied experience, tasking you with protecting a target or taking down enemy waves. Even so, the balance issues remain.
Despite substantial quips with the main campaign, it’s difficult to deny that amassing a diverse collection of Echoes is enjoyable. Since the Echoes themselves are actually lifeforms (or at least forms consciousness), they can be upgraded over time and eventually reach “veteran” status. This gives the abilities they provide a significant boost, as well as minting them a shiny new veteran icon, which tends to look markedly more bad-ass than the original. If you ignore the fact that strategy isn’t crucial to success, and instead start chaining together complex Echo and melee attack combinations for kicks, you’ll likely find your experience much more entertaining. If you try your hand at the Hardcore Mode (new for Steam), you may even start putting your skills to use – this mode was where I had the best time, by far.
Perhaps the most important thing to consider is that Echo Prime is not a large investment – it can be purchased for a mere $7.99 on Steam. When you take the extremely fair price tag into account, issues with Echo Prime become far easier to ignore. Its presentation isn’t all that original, and the creative Echo mechanic sometimes falters, but for $7.99 Echo Prime is worthwhile for the fun power-ups and Hardcore Mode alone. If it sounds up your alley, then I’d suggest buying without hesitation. Waiting isn’t such a bad idea either, though – we all know the collaboration I pitched at the start of this review will be far better anyway.
Echo Prime is flawed, but it's also fun and less than $10. One of its main issues is somewhat alleviated by Hardcore Mode, and if mixing and matching power-ups is something you enjoy, then Echo Prime is sure to please. If you're looking for a compelling story or strategy-driven combat, though, you'll likely be disappointed.