It's a bit like Asteroids.
Echoes is a highly polished remake of the perennial classic Asteroids, produced by indie developer Binary Zoo. The Asteroids template has given birth to scores of games over the years, some good, some bad, but few have been as visually arresting as Echoes.
Yes, Echoes is a beautiful game. Somehow it manages to combine minimalism and excess, and gives the wireframe graphics of Asteroids a Las-Vegas-meets-Neo-Tokyo hyperactive neon makeover. Motion blur, vivid colours, super-bright explosions and shockwave flashes make playing Echoes the visual equivalent of shooting up with caffeine.
While the asteroids remain similar in shape to their arcade ancestors, the ship the player controls has had a bit of a redesign. Instead of a triangle, the player now pilots a circular craft similar to an on/off switch, surrounded by a huge 'shield' circle which marks the craft's health.
The physics have been changed too - gone is the thrust control and inertia which characterised the original, and would have sat uncomfortably with the often breakneck speed of play in Echoes. Instead your craft zips around the screen quite precisely, whether you use a pad, mouse or the keyboard, although playing with a mouse becomes pretty hard after the first five or so levels.
For those unfamiliar with the Asteroids premise, the game itself is very simple. The player pilots their craft to shoot at and destroy asteroids, the larger of which break up into smaller asteroids. Echoes strays from the original format by allowing the player's craft to be damaged by asteroid impacts, whereas the original Asteroids ship was much more fragile and was destroyed by the slightest touch. Black Holes and swarms of meteors which home in on the player's craft also feature in Echoes, adding to the depth and variety of gameplay.
Echoes' gameplay is fluid and the speed ramps up quite quickly, becoming frantic early on but not so soon as to overwhelm the player. Weapon pickups are numerous and beefy enough to make a difference against some of the giant asteroids encountered later in the game. It's when the screen is packed with asteroids and laser beams are everywhere and the clubby soundtrack is at maximum volume that Echoes really comes into its own. Fast and furious fun without too much of a preamble, Echoes is a game you can easily pick up and throw ten or so minutes away with.
But there's the rub - if you're looking for a game that will drag you into a seven-hour gaming vortex then Echoes isn't the one you're looking for. An Echoes marathon would probably make the average player more frustrated than entertained, but then again Echoes is clearly a game designed for pick-up-and-drop arcade style fun, just like the original Asteroids (although the late, great Scott Safran might disagree!) and in small doses it really is just great.
The degree of customisability the game gives you is a nice touch. Motion blur, brightness, and special effects can all be tweaked to make the game less or more intensive on the eyes and processor, and it gives the player an abundance of choices for control methods.
Echoes is a great piece of arcade style game design, and Binary Zoo's efforts have paid off resulting in a striking, futurist remodelling of the Asteroids formula and a fast, challenging, enjoyable freeware game.