Everyone likes a good puzzle game; they're challenging and easy to pick up and play. Sony's PSP is an ideal platform for developers to try out new ideas for the genre, and that's where Echoshift comes in. The name probably doesn't strike a chord with you but it should. This is a sequel to 2008's Echochrome - recognisable due to its mannequin main character. It was an important release that showed the potential of creating a puzzle game under one core concept. Unlike its predecessor, Echoshift plays around with numerous ideas while retaining a very distinct look. If you're wondering how this game slipped under the radar, it's because the flight from Europe was too daunting. Apparently the physical version wasn't released in Australia, so the most convenient way of accessing Echoshift is through the PSP's download service. Regardless of how you manage to get your greasy gamer paws on the game, it's going to force you to think outside the box all over again.
There's no story to follow whatsoever, although that's to be expected. Most people associate the series with the common scene of a stickman contemplating over the problem before him. Not much has changed here, so you'll feel right at home inside this minimalistic world. The main structure of each level is made up of the colour white, but you'll also encounter plenty of greens and blues. Echoshift is predominantly square and because it doesn't require a whole lot of processing power to run smoothly, every level is crisp and shiny. As far as portable games in this generation are concerned, we're dealing with simplicity personified. This could be the cleanest puzzle game around, detail is non existent and the protagonist is lifeless (literally). However, that's what makes Echoshift a truly unique game to look at. Before you get too comfortable gazing at the screenshot, don't let the pleasant visuals fool you.
If you thought the original was difficult, you haven't seen anything yet. Echoshift is excruciatingly tough most of the time, so if you're easily frustrated then don't bother reading to the end of this review. You must be wondering what the main puzzling principles are. Instead of shifting (no pun intended) the perspective of the camera angle as you would in Echochrome, you need to wrap your head around 'Time Bounces'. This technique falls under the bracket of time manipulation. Every level gives you nine chances to reverse time and start again, but there's a catch - your little character's shadow still walks around as if you were watching a replay. Here's a basic example; during your first attempt you'll need to activate a switch in order to cross over a gap. Activate a rewind and while your shadow is standing on the switch, you can cross over. It's basic puzzle solving with a slight twist, although the difficulty rises sharply and your timing will be crucial.
As you get deeper into Echoshift, you'll encounter a whole range of different tricks and obstacles, including spiky flying blocks and sudden events while require you to quickly tap a button. The controls are very straight forward; use the d-pad to move and the X button to interact with items, and that's about it. What makes Echoshift challenging is the content inside these levels, and that's when the game tilts towards an area of uncertainty. When you have nine different characters walking around the screen and triggering all sorts of actions, it becomes far too hectic. There are too many new and confusing moments thrown at you early on and this can be a little overwhelming. Echochrome was very relaxing in comparison, so don't be surprising if your head starts aching after sinking less than an hour into the game.
Each time you activate a rewind, Echoshift sends you into a loading screen. Since you only have thirty seconds or therabouts before the inevitable loop begins, you're going to be hit with a barrage of loading times. It's rather annoying and there's no reason why the developers couldn't have streamlined everything together. Essentially, the gameplay doesn't complement the presentation. We're talking about a game with several smart ideas, squeezed into a world that isn't comfortable handling them. That's not to say that the bulk of the game isn't well designed - each new puzzle will definitely get your brain muscles working - but the overall package is in a confused state.
The most disappointing part of Echoshift is the thought of wasting a brilliant opportunity to build on what Echochrome achieved. Replacing the frenzied madness with a slowly paced game mechanic, or evolving the potential of perspective puzzle solving could have resulted in a neatly balanced experience. There was plenty of room to expand but that hasn't happened with this latest release. It's not entirely negative and it would be unjustified to spend too much time discussing what could have been. In defence of Echoshift, it does establish itself among the most elite of puzzle games, so job well done in that respect. Fans of the original are likely to feel a bit cheated, whereas the people who didn't enjoy Echochrome might see this as a change that needed to be made.
One other aspect of Echochrome gave it a memorable feeling - the music. Classical tunes are back and this time they aren't welcome. Considering how chaotic the puzzles can be, the background music never comes across as being beneficial. The same sections are repeated too frequently and it's hard not to feel like breaking the wrists of the conductor. A few electronic beats would have been much more appropriate, but of course hindsight is a privilege and it's understandable to see why the developers wanted to keep certain traits from Echochrome. With plenty of puzzles (including extra downloadable content) and multiple modes to go back and try, Echoshift definitely has plenty to offer. Diehard puzzle solvers will enjoy the refreshing look and feel, but the main problem is still the baffling blend of confusing gameplay with an art style that refuses to accept it. It's definitely not a bad game, it just never gives the soothing impression that made Echochrome such a hit.
Seeing a developer take a new approach is nearly always commendable, and Echoshift's often frantic pace is something that you should at least try. Despite the fact that the game looks like it should be for PSP, the concentration needed to be successful is difficult to achieve when you're on the move. Realistically, making this a downloadable title for Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network would have been a wiser choice. Visuals aside, this has barely anything in common with Echochrome. Portable puzzle games should be easy to play wherever you are, but this sequel can't offer that. What it does rather well is present intelligent gamers with intelligent design, something that will fill you with excitement or leave you ripping chunks of hair from your scalp.