Alter Echo

I've become a big fan of bargain bins.

I have to pay for every game now that I no longer review professionally; the ability to pick up a title for $9.99 or $14.99 has a deep appeal. I like to buy my games new, so that limits my purchases to so-called 'price drops,' when the inventory exceeds demand and the various stores start lowering their prices to get rid of the games. I have a habit of buying four or five cheap games at once, only one or two of which I'm really interested in, since the total investment still ends up being cheaper than two full-priced titles.

This ties into what I call the Rule of Movie Value. (Well, no, I don't really call it that. I don't really call it anything. But you're not allowed to have rules of thumb without names.) The idea behind it is simple. I pay seven bucks for two hours at a movie theater. A video game isn't as pretty, but it's interactive, so I pretend that these two things balance out. I want two hours of videogame enjoyment out of every seven dollars I put into a game.

The appeal of bargain bins is therefore obvious: if a game provides me with six hours of entertainment, a twenty-dollar pricetag is reasonable. If I pick up four games from the bin, and spend ten hours on two of them, I've probably made my money's worth and don't have to worry about the two that I'm not playing.

Alter Echo was purchased with that sort of logic. I paid a whopping $6.99 for it; if I had a couple of hours of fun, I would have been satisfied. I didn't have any particular sentiment on the game one way or the other, as reviews were fairly vague--"combo-based action adventure?" Isn't that every game released since Devil May Cry?--and the review scores landed just about everywhere, but mostly in the centre.

Short analysis: Fun game, repetitive, but definitely worth a bargain bin price.

The backstory is actually fairly original, even if the game doesn't take it anywhere suprising. You assume the role of Nevin, a man in the future who has the ability to shape plast, which "modern" technology is based on. The universe's top plast researcher has gone missing, so Nevin and two other folks are sent to his last known location to find out What Went Wrong. Upon arriving, they're shot out of the sky, Nevin wakes up inside an environment that would make Georgia O'Keefe proud and sporting a brand new bodysuit, and thus the adventure begins.

As you progress through the game, Nevin gains the ability to change into three different forms. This switching is effectively instantaneous, allowing you to switch back and forth during battle. This is the core of the game: slaughtering tonnes of enemies by beating the crap out of them, switching forms when an enemy requires a different tactic. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The combat is fun, and you can power up your suit with new skills by spending points. Those points are gained by chaining attacks into combos, so it behooves you to make use of the battle system as efficiently as possible. Unfortunately, it's fairly easy to abuse; there are certain enemy generators which spawn a large number of beasties, and if you time your attacks right you can set up chains that go into the hundreds of hits, netting you a huge number of points. I bought every possible upgrade by the time I was three-quarters of the way through the game, and when I beat it I had enough to buy them all over again.

As always, it's the little things that drag the game down some. An early enemy--the Plasmid Elite--is damn near impossible, unless you buy a specific upgrade (the boomerang shot, in case you're curious), at which point they become positively trivial to destroy. The first time I fought them I was conserving my points and got mauled; I restarted the game and bought the boomerang shot on a hunch, and the rest of the game became quite a bit easier as a result. There are also balance issues with the various bosses; some are totally trivial, some are quite challenging, and one of them (the next to last one) is an exercise in plodding frustration, with a second form that drove me dangerously close to controller-in-TV syndrome.

That aside, though, the game was quite a bit of fun. Repetitive, yes, but the repetition appealed to the completist gamer in me--I kept trying to maximize my combos, figuring out new ways to switch between enemies so that I could get lots of points. The setting was fairly unique, and although the environments are fairly indistinguishable, it doesn't do the obligatory woods-icy-dungeon-metal gamut that damn near every platformer does nowadays. And its primary colour is purple. I like purple.

Would I pay full price for Alter Echo? No. Would I pick it up in a bargain bin? Definitely. It may not be great, but it is fun, and that's what counts.

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Last Updated: 2004.05.16