My biggest surprise of E3 2009 (so far) was Echochrono (working title) for the PlayStation Portable. As I was checking out Sony's various offerings for my E3 2009 previews, I saw a sign for this game and thought I'd spend like three minutes checking it out before passing it off to a minion. I ended up playing for an hour (oops). A spin-off of Echochrome, this PSP puzzler uses simple concepts in a wonderfully brain-teasing way. The art is simple and cool, while the challenge can get pretty intense. The basic goal of the game is to get from one side of the room to the other. How you do that can get really complicated and after every level I cleared, I was left with a satisfying sense of reward.
In every level, you have a certain amount of "lives" and a certain amount of time. When you start a new turn, a ghost (think racing game) of your character performs the same actions as his previous turn, so everything you did in the past will happen as you play in the present. Impeding your progress are numerous switches and baddies. For example, let's say your path to the exit is cut off by three pieces of missing platforms, you have five lives, and 30 seconds per life. You would use your first guy to activate two nearby switches in the allotted time. Next, you would use your second life to hit the faraway switch. When you start your third turn, the ghosts from the previous two turns will leave you a clear path to the exit.
As the game advances, things get much more complex. Switches are harder to reach and new obstacles appear. There's one "monster" character that tries to nab you when your back is turned, but stays perfectly still if you're facing it. In this case, you'll need to use one of your lives to just stare at the baddie so that it remains perfectly still. The basic concepts of the game are simple, but the level design can get really complex, making for some truly challenging gameplay. Precision and economy of movement are required for the game's hardest puzzles.
Tsubasa Inaba, the game's producer, described Echochrono to me as "self co-op." It sounds weird, but that's a great way to describe this game. Ultimately though, this is something you need to experience to really understand. He also told me that Echochrono was a last-minute E3 addition that almost didn't make the show. I'm super glad it did, because it was a most pleasant surprise. I'm digging the game so much that I'm planning to sneak back to the Sony booth to get more play time in.