When I was a kid, the hottest things in school were online flash games – specifically, puzzle-platformers. Games like Shift, The Company of Myself, Continuity, Achievement Unlocked, and Karoshi provided hours of fun to growing young minds trying to figure out not only how to get to the goal, but what new puzzle the game would throw at you. Ecotone (stylized as ecotone), developed by Sundae Factory, is a game in the vein of these old Flash puzzle games – fitting, since it was made in Flash itself. So how does this throwback to yesteryear stand up?
“You are not a hero. You will not save the world, you may not even save yourself.”
These words greet you on ecotone‘s store page, and this quote sets the tone of the game very well. In real life, an ecotone is a transitional area between two biomes – for example, between a forest and a grassland, or a salt marsh. Because two communities may integrate in this transitional zone, many forms of life live together and compete for space, and exotic (that is, non-native and unique) species may spring up. It is this concept that ecotone (the game) runs with, creating a platformer in which the mechanics of each level are different, with a high-speed chase, stopping time, reversed gravity, and more. Each level is based on a sentence, such as “six feet under,” that lets the player both understand the story of the game, and solve the puzzle in each particular level.
Ecotone Key Features
• A new gameplay at almost each level, you will never get bored.
• A quirky universe
• A unique soundtrack
• A retro feeling (no checkpoints, use code to reach levels etc…)
• Discover an unexpected story
While at the core, gameplay is the same in all but a handful of levels – grab orbs, avoid touching black spiky things – ecotone does, indeed, change up gameplay features quite often, giving you the ability to stop time, giving you a second avatar that mirrors your movements, and more. These new gimmicks only stay around for a handful of levels, and some one level only, before the player has to adapt to a new one, adding a good amount of variety to the game. Puzzle hints, in the form of the level’s title, are often clear (albeit with some translation errors, none of which impede the ability to play the game), so the challenge is never figuring out what to do. The controls feel tight, which is excellent for a puzzle-platformer, and though Steam says the game has partial controller support, you’re likely better off with a keyboard – especially for certain puzzles which may require unorthodox keys, or the use of your mouse. The sound design and look of the world work well together, giving an otherworldly, strange, and alien feel while playing the game. As for the retro feeling (no checkpoints, use of codes), the game used to require passwords to track your progress. The game now does this automatically, proving that the devs listen to feedback and work to improve the game – always a plus in my book.
While the tight controls work well for puzzles, the slow pace at which your avatar moves make the platforming segments, of which there are many, especially in the later game, feel drawn out. You can dash in most circumstances to mitigate the problem, but at the loss of precision and control. This is especially notable in levels where the gimmick (for example, the wind pushes you) is apparent, but making precision platforming becomes unnecessarily difficult due to the character’s slow movements and, often, narrow margin of error. Speaking of trial and error, there are multiple sections that involve running very fast into the next world. Here your character is either stuck in run mode, or might as well be, and you will die repeatedly and often during these segments as you try to figure out how long you hold “jump” in order to not collide into black, spiky death. There are optional, collectible masks in every level to add challenges, but it’s unclear what they do (other than show up on the level select screen and give you a sense of accomplishment), and going for the masks often leads to more death. Levels are short enough that, technically speaking, death isn’t much of a setback, but when you die often enough because you weren’t precise enough to make that same jump thirty times, well, then it becomes a major setback. Compared to this, the quibble that there’s no option to exit fullscreen is incredibly minor.
The difficulty with puzzle platformer flash games, old and new, is often not in figuring out the puzzle – it’s in figuring out what exact position you need to be to not die or otherwise have to restart. This is, I suppose, an unavoidable pitfall of the genre. Where ecotone stands above its forebears is variety. Where a game like Shift or Continuity might have one gimmick that gets harder to utilize, ecotone uses multiple twists on the standard “run, jump, pick up orb” formula. The game may feel like a grind if their movements aren’t precise, but not because the game doesn’t offer something new and interesting. If you’re a fan of puzzle platformers, definitely give ecotone a look.
Currently available for $8.99 on Steam. An early access code was provided for purposes of this review.