Spoiler Alert: I spoil the end of Tiny Echo in this post. Just a heads up.
I’ve mentioned it before, but one of my favorite parts about scouring my backlog for new games to try is actually getting a chance to try games I didn’t even realize I had. See, a lot of the games I have in my backlog come from Steam sales and Humble Bundles, when a person can just pay a little bit of money and get a stack of games. The problem is that over the course of five or so years, those stacks of games build up higher and higher, and it’s just hard to keep track of what one has. That’s a big part of how I ended up with almost 300 unplayed games on my backlog.
That said, there is a benefit to all of this. If you don’t know what you have, when you randomly pick a game to play and it turns out to be awesome, well, there’s just something special about that.
Such is the story behind my brief, but great experience with Tiny Echo.
I can see Tiny Echo ultimately being a kind of decisive game among those who have played it. It reminds me in some ways of LIMBO, which back when it was released in 2010 led to a huge debate about whether or not the length of a game should directly correlate to the price. Periodically, this debate pops up anytime a game comes out that people feel wasn’t long enough to justify its price. Clocking in at about 1.5 hours, if Tiny Echo had sold LIMBO numbers, I think it would have reinvigorated that debate. I’m sure that for many people who did play it, when the credits rolled, they most likely had a moment where they questioned whether or not the game was worth the money.
I’m sure it won’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who follows me on Twitter, I fall squarely in the camp of valuing the experience of a game over the length of time I spend within it. And, for me, Tiny Echo was an experience that was absolutely worth the ten bucks or so it would cost to buy it.
Tiny Echo is a simple puzzle game at its essence. The game opens with a bleak landscape showing a handful of featureless figures. As the player moves the camera around, a trail of ethereal energy leaves the heads of the figures and converges at a single point, descending through a hole in the ground in the form of letters that land at the foot of a one-eyed mailman, your avatar in this journey. Your task is easy enough: you must deliver the letters to their intended recipients, or rather, the spirits of their intended recipients. See, as you learn in the final moments of the game, the letters are actually the desires of the inhabitants of the wasteland, ways to make their world better, and the spirits (gods?) of the mailman’s world can make that happen. Simply put, you deliver the letters, the desires are met, the wasteland becomes something more than a wasteland.
While the ideas are simple, the task of delivering these letters takes a little more thought. This is a puzzle-solving game at its essence, and solving puzzles is required to progress through the world. Sometimes, these puzzles can involve making simple environmental changes to meet the needs of the letter recipients before they talk to you. For example, one recipient is cold, so you interact with the environment around you to warm them up, allowing you to deliver the letter. In other cases, the puzzles involve changing the environment in some way to give you access to new areas of the world, like interacting with some birds in one area to send them to another area to eat away long grass which then opens a path you can now use. The puzzles are all incredibly inventive and very intuitive. I got stuck on a handful of them, but when I finally figured them out, I never felt betrayed by the game. This is actually really refreshing for a puzzle game, a genre which has had its fair share of “bullshit” puzzle solutions that no one in their right mind could solve without just randomly trying stuff and getting lucky.
All in all, though, the puzzles themselves are just a piece of the experience, which is why I think the game works so well. As an entire package, Tiny Echo is just an enjoyable game to play. And when all is said and done, when you see the wasteland transformed into a beautiful, lush world, there is a sense of beauty that is a little hard to quantify. I don’t mean “beauty” as a physical concept, though there is that, I mean “beauty” as an emotional concept, like when I saw my wife walking down the aisle in her dress. To a lesser degree than that, of course, but I think the sentiment is the same. It’s something a lot of games strive for, but few actually achieve.
And I don’t think you can put a price on that.