If anyone knows me, they know one thing: I love free PC shooters. The developers at Binary Zoo have made me very happy in recent years with their excellent releases Duo and Mono, and it seems like they've done it yet again. Their new game, Echoes, combines Asteroids and Geometry Wars to create another entertaining and addictive shoot-em-up.
The game menu is very similar to Duo and Mono, and easy for anyone to quickly understand and start playing. If you've never played either of those two games, before, a helpful "Instructions" button will break down the basics for you:
10 SHOOT STUFF
30 GOTO 10
If that's not enough info to get you started, there is an HTML document with instructions included in the Echoes package. The gameplay is as basic as it gets. You move your ship and fire independently in 360 degrees, and there are 10 levels of enemies for you to destroy: mini asteroids, small asteroids, large asteroids, extra-large asteroids, comets, meteor storms, asteroid belts, planets, black holes, and the sun. If you're hit by any enemies, you'll lose energy. The game ends when your energy reaches zero, or perhaps when you blow up the sun. I wouldn't know as I can't seem to get past those wicked blue planets.
While Duo is all about myriad levels and Mono is free-form color blasting, Echoes has a much more linear progression. The first four levels are simply bigger and bigger asteroids. On Normal mode, most players should be able to quickly defeat these enemies without losing much energy, if any. One tip: it's best to knock out lots of little guys before you blow the huge asteroids into more little guys.
The comets and meteor storms of levels five and six add enemies that are sturdier and harder to kill, but it's only in level seven that the action starts to heat up for real. Even if you can survive the wormlike asteroid belts that track you around the screen, those blue planets with their swirling blue balls of destruction are too much for me right now. Levels eight and above are where the game hits full frenzy, of course, as every enemy you've faced so far begins to multiply with newfound fury.
Luckily for you, there is a power-up system composed of three types of green balls: the "plus" signs increase your energy (aka health) by five points (out of 100); the three-pronged missile icon increases your weapon power by one factor; and the circle of stars launches a round of missiles in 360 directions. Your energy cannot go higher than the maximum setting, so don't bother with the energy power-ups while your health is 100 points. It's displayed in the upper-right corner of the screen, and a colored circle around your ship also indicates your energy status. Once it becomes small and red, you'd best start moving very quickly and accurately.
Unlike your ship's energy, your weapon's power can increase infinitely, at least as far as I can tell. Be sure to grab those weapon power-ups early and often. One of the more important factors of beating the higher levels (aside from ninja-like reflexes) is high-powered missiles. (Those of you who've played Duo will recognize some of the higher-level missile patterns.)
One other cool feature of Echoes worth mentioning is the ability to set your own music as the soundtrack for your game. Drop your MP3 files or playlists into the "my music" folder in your Echoes directory, and then select your music in the in-game audio options. You can either play through your songs in order or shuffle them up.
I did run into some graphics wackiness when I tried to use my standard old Logitech game pad with Echoes, but that may be due to a new video card or the myriad other programs I had running at the same time. However, the graphic glitches disappeared when I went back to playing with mouse and keyboard.
So, the blue planets bested me, but surely you all have much more free time to bring Echoes to its knees. Has anyone out there destroyed a sun? How about a black hole?