Pilot your ship and it's energy weapon independently as you blast through hyperspace! EchoSpace is a top down "shooter" which requires skill and determination. Controlling two objects at one time is difficult, but very rewarding. You've never played anything quite like it!
Wedding rings... in space! What a horrible tagline that would be for EchoForce, but that's exactly what springs to mind when booting the game for the first time, the familiar space ship so endemic of the genre replaced with this spinning ring encapsulated within a cursor. For outsiders looking in and even fans of the genre, a lot of shooter design can look too similar, typically some manner of flying ship or floating girl, our equivalent of the bald space marine. Of course, fans can appreciate what Vic Viper, R-9a, Cotton, and others can bring to their respective series; and developer Cribzero does its first Xbox 360 title a disservice by going with what amounts to a placeholder graphic, albeit a nicely animated one. Get past the smooth but uninspired look and sound of EchoSpace, however, and players will be treated to one of the more innovative shooters to come out in years.
"Shooter" is the appropriate genre for the game, but there is no shooting in EchoSpace. Just as VVVVVV is a platformer without a jump, EchoSpace's cursor-ring-thing never fires a single shot, instead relying on a tethered ball of death to defeat enemies. Players brandish the glowing scarlet sphere with the right analog stick, and its movements are completely independent from the left stick's cursor. This isn't the green nuclear yo-yo found in Guardian Force nor exhibits any of the properties one would expect upon first glance such as being able to swing it around the "ship." It feels a bit odd at first because of the level of ambidexterity needed as success with the laser orb requires far more precision than that of a typical twinstick shooter, but learning how to pilot both at once is the foundation of the game and the reason it should be played.
EchoSpace is more than just some nifty concept for a different style of twinstick shooter. Cribzero has essentially retooled the entire genre around its game's control scheme, its innovations going well beyond swapping bullets for a ball. For one, the ball becomes a focal point for warping through enemies and barriers, a necessary and oft used tactic during the game. Warp energy recharges swiftly and on its own, but the player can restore the ship's health and bomb meter by moving the cursor on top of the orb. The bomb is a short radius destructive blast which also use the ball as the point of attack and whose destructive force is dependent upon how much energy the meter has stored at the time of impact. There's a natural tendency to keep the ball far away from the ship or chasing down targets with it to blow stuff up, but this also means less of a chance to draw it in for a refuel when needed.
It's pretty awesome how this plays out in practice. While initially feels like a clunky, cumbersome cursor-based shooter quickly turns into an edge of the seat affair with the ship-thing zipping around the screen past threats too tough or numerous to just plow through. EchoSpace is a shooter of positioning, even in low level play seeing how the weak the laser line is and how impossible it is to wipe out all threats given the slow, condensed movements of the energy ball. I do wish the game had a way to speed up the sphere's movement around the screen, but I can also see that messing with the neat risk vs. reward system in play here. The level design, enemies, and pacing are all excellent and suit the game perfectly, and EchoSpace is a must for any shooter fan, especially those looking for what genuinely feels like a new experience cut from a familiar template.
Fans should be able to overlook most of the drawbacks such as the fairly generic look of it all, poor gameplay explanation, and the lack of a border on the edges of the screen, the latter particularly annoying when trying to judge whether or not the cursor can squeeze around one of those blue laser barricades. I wish the cursor color didn't match that of its weapon since I found myself sometimes getting confused and unable to quickly distinguish them during the game's more hectic moments. I'm also not crazy about how enemies love to just zip out from the bottom of the screen, scoring cheap damage until the pattern is memorized. Probably the hardest thing for shooter fans to stomach, however, is the complete lack of score keeping of any kind, leaving no way to compete against others beyond simple progress through the game. The absence of point values is a real disappointment in light of the methodical gameplay; anyone (with practice) can survive, but who can actually defeat the most enemies while doing so? Even the bosses will wander off if not beaten within the their time limit, but without score tracking, there's little to say about playing well, which can feel like a glaring omission coming from a "hardcore" game such as this.
Cribzero has much to be proud of with its first Xbox indie release. It exercises a unique concept and by and large succeeds in every possible light. Some presentation issues keep EchoSpace from looking its best, but none of that overshadows what the developer has achieved with this wonderful twinstick thing. EchoSpace is an impressive title players who covet solid action games, new ideas, and/or thought they were burned out on twinstick shooters need to play.