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When is “Innovation” Old in Puzzle Games? The Case of Time Manipulation in Echoshift

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Echochrome was a brilliant and truly innovative game, and I loved it. The game turned perspective into reality, so if it looked like two passages linked up, then they really do. If a hole appears to drop down to what is actually a higher point, your character can reach it. It all depended on where the player moved the camera, which was a truly mind-bending experience. I poured hours into both the PS3 and PSP versions, eventually working my way into the top ten worldwide leaderboards and creating video walkthroughs for those who still hadn't quite wrapped their heads around the gameplay. The game was a spectacular idea, and the most innovative puzzle game I may have ever played.

Now the game has a sequel, Echoshift. It shrugs off all of the incredible perspective tricks of the original game in favor of a new "innovative" puzzle mechanic, which is time manipulation. Time manipulation in puzzle games is not "innovative" any more than, say, the iPhone XL/iPad. Sony, Joystiq, etc., all continue to call the game "innovative," while the basic mechanic has been in use since at least 2002.

Just how many other games have already plowed this same field that Echoshift is now claiming all for itself? Well, Braid already explored the subject in great detail. Granted, only a few of Braid's levels actually required cooperation with a past version of yourself, which is Echoshift's main mechanic. How about the Flash game Chronotron? Its gameplay is extremely similar to that of Echoshift. Then after that, another Flash game called The Company of Myself used the same gameplay, but at least added on a short story to keep it interesting. The game mechanic is already that overused: We've figured it out, so now we need storyline to keep things interesting.

In fact, the idea is much older than any of those titles, and Echoshift's developer, Artoon, was the one who started it. Blinx: The Time Sweeper was a platformer for the Xbox released in 2002 that used the console's hard drive to record every second of gameplay. This recorded gameplay could then be used in (what were at the time) innovative ways, pausing and rewinding the world to get past certain obstacles. The basis of Echoshift's gameplay is old enough to be starting third grade this year. 

I'm sure Echoshift is still plenty entertaining, even if I've already played it a number of times under different names. But for Sony to replace their Japan Studio developers and their innovations with Artoon and their tired game mechanic, keeping it the same franchise and still calling it "innovative," that's wrong. I don't want to keep buying the same old rehashed puzzle game over and over, unable to resist the smallest of changes just to keep my addiction going. So I'm going to load up the Wii and play Tetris Party instead.

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About Nathaniel Edwards

  • njc

    Kudos for recognizing that Blinx was the game that popularized the ‘rewind’ mechanic amongst designers. I have grown a tad annoyed at reading claims of Braid’s originality. Of course, Blinx was not the first time rewind game – I think that honorific currently applies to Catrap/Pitman (Game Boy).

    I remember Echochrome when it was just Jun Fujiki’s OLE Coordinate System. I thought that this guy was just extraordinarily brilliant, especially after seeing his 3D painting prototype.

    I can not make claims on Sony’s or Fujiki’s behalf, but it is sad to see a designer being hobbled. Then again, players tend to like certain mechanics and will forsake all others, regardless of innovation – rock and a hard place, right?