When I put down the controller at the end of Fossil Echo, I did my best to remember the last game that made me stop what I was doing and get enthusiastic about taking screenshots. It was Uncharted 4 and its visceral landscapes that spanned across the world. I realize how unfair it might seem to compare AAA titles to indie ventures, or 2D cartoon sidescrollers to exhaustively realistic 3D environments, but you can always discern that extraordinary level of craftsmanship in a visual style. Does it come from their high quality animation practices? Or their emphasis on hand-drawn environments and characters?

In either instance, I’m convinced that Fossil Echo will receive high recognition for its visuals. Already, it has received two rewards from indie festivals for “Game Of The Show” at Indie Games Play 6, and “Best Visuals” at Evry Games City 2. Its creators at Awaceb claim to owe the game’s style to Studio Ghibli films, and make game references to Ico and the Oddworld series.

Before I get too lost in the game’s visuals, Fossil Echo is a action-based 2D sidescroller with a cartoony feel to it. As the nameless young protagonist that appears to come from an indigenous tribe, you traverse up a tall tower that takes several in-game days to climb. The towers are littered by members of an opposing clan. Without being too specific, I’ll just say that they’ve wronged your protagonist. At bonfires (that act as rest stops), you fall asleep and enter a dream world to learn more about your past. From beginning to end, you try to sneak your way up the tower and through your dream sequences. The controls are minimal (jumping, climbing, and running only) and the mechanics are unforgivably exacting. These mechanics are common in stealth games, and I found myself exerting a level of patience I wasn’t used to when recognizing enemy movement patterns.

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However, I should add that level design does get repetitive in style. Environments stay the same, but enemy placement and movement patterns differ for difficulty’s sake. But, because I enjoyed the mechanics and the satisfaction from clearing a zone, I didn’t mind it too much.

When you consider how short the game is (I finished in a little over an hour), the limited use of assets and enemies worked well with its nail-biting stealth scenarios. For completionists and enthusiasts of the game’s story, there is an optional series of challenging environments that rely on swift character movement. It’s a nice touch to stretch out the longevity of the game for fans of its mechanics. Also, the game contains a series of achievements that are quite challenging (e.g. finish the game without dying and completing the extra challenges) and would definitely earn a spot on your Steam profile showcase.

But back to the visuals–every asset and background just feels well-crafted. As I stated earlier, the developers were big on hand-drawing and animation and it just shows. The dim levels inside of the tower and use of silhouettes in parts of the game helped establish a sombre tone while still creating something you ogled over. But the show-stopping visuals rested in the dream sequences, where you were transported to places like lush forests, barren deserts, and celestial night skies. Unfortunately, the game does not have a great steam user interface, so you would need to grab Fraps or another screenshot program to take your next desktop pictures. Effects like fog and sandstorms were also seamless, as well as the game’s 15 minutes of animated cutscenes. Because there is no dialogue or backstory as to why our protagonist is at the base of the tower, your looking forward to the next scene to give you some indication of why you’re scaling this tower.

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Its soundtrack is also on par with its striking visuals. John Robert Matz had a tough task with pairing a score to such a vast amount of environments and tonalities, but ultimately kept players in tranquility through a slow-paced tribal mix. Much like its gameplay, the score also borrows some elements from Ico and Oddworld. I must admit that musical analysis isn’t my strong suit, so I’d highly encourage you to listen to a few minutes of the OST from OSP’s 15 minutes of gameplay. It works surprisingly well, and lived up to its tough job of holding up a dialogue-less narrative.

While I’m quick to say that Fossil Echo has been an absolute treat on the eyes and ears, this is yet another indie game with an incomplete story. The protagonist’s motivations were only discovered in the second-to-last cutscene, with the final scene ending so abruptly that you’re left to question if they’re leaving the resolution of the story to DLC. I felt that 75% of the plot was a waiting game to see if I would learn anything about my character’s situation, or really comprehend the world my character lives in.

Irrespective of how I feel about its story, Fossil Echo is one of the better looking (and sounding) indie games of 2016. Its mechanics will appeal to fans of classic adventure indie titles like Super Meat Boy while providing ample fan-service to the developer’s influences. I would even consider it a must-have for sadistic achievement hunters. But despite its successes, I must say that the game’s half-baked story and shortness would leave me hesitant to pay retail for it.

Fossil Echo was reviewed on PC with a copy provided by the developer. 

Developer: Awaceb | Publisher: Awaceb | Genres: Adventure, Indie | Platform: PC | PEGI/ESRB: T/14+ | Release Date: July 8th, 2016 (PC)

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