Might and Delight have made some wonderful, handcrafted games about the wilderness. Their Shelter series really captures the beautiful but brutal side of nature and explores ideas of motherhood, survival and animal community. In their newest game, Tiny Echo, they show us the hidden side of nature, revealing the small creatures and spirits that live deep in the undergrowth. It’s a pocket sized artistic adventure that has you playing possible the cutest courier ever named Emi, as she delivers messages to different entities and creatures of the spirit realm.
Tiny Echo is a point and click game with some quaint environmental puzzle elements and a wordless narrative that gives the game a mysterious and ethereal atmosphere. It’s relaxing to wander and soak in the dreamlike visuals but its crisp sound design gives it an edge of surrealism that makes the game’s mood a little unhinged. It’s a world filled with spirits, smoke and shadows; all suggesting that this is a realm that you can’t quite grasp. It’s this vibe that made me want to delve into this universe and learn more about this strange world and its inhabitants. Playing Tiny Echo is peeking into a tiny terrarium, peering into the lives of these unusual, little creatures.
It’s All So Tranquil
At the start of the game, we see a wasteland, a desolate place where faceless creatures huddle together in small groups. Arms formed from smoke loom out of their heads and drop letters down into a dark pit where our courier friend is waiting, she picks them up and starts her rounds in the undergrowth. This is where the spirit community lives, a polar opposite the surface, this realm is lush and thriving. Tiny Echo invites us to explore its spirit community, and as we join Emi in her rounds we get to uncover the relaxing and peaceful lives of the spirit realm. As you wander you can see the daily activities of the spirits and get a sense of their routines; washing dishes in a stream, painting the outside of a house, parents looking after their kids – it’s all so tranquil.
Playing in the role of a courier means that everyone recognises you and the creatures give a little wave when you great them. The act of delivering letters is one that connects people, it’s an honest and friendly job. The world is strange at first but then the player becomes more in tune with its happenings. As you wander you can interact with the community in small ways; helping them with small problems, sitting down to have tea, or just stopping and listening to a fox play his clarinet. I like that the game focuses on helping the other creatures in the community, giving them their post and engaging with their small rituals. You don’t need to act in big gestures to support this community, you can be helpful supportive in small ways.
A moment in the game that perfectly captures this idea is when you and Emi wander into an area that looks like the remnants of a fire or a storm. It’s grey and cold with twigs and debris everywhere, it’s completely different to the rest of the undergrowth. As you explore this area you come across a small creature who is crying softly. When you click on them, Emi sits down next to them and also begins to start quietly crying. Until you decide the click away, Emi will stay there with the creature and even when you decide to get up and leave she will continue crying for a short while.
Sharing a Moment of Grief
This small gesture communicates so much without the need for dialogue or exposition. Community is about support and empathy, in this small moment you are giving your support to a creature who had gone through distress, just by sitting with them and sharing a moment of grief together. When you have shared this comforting moment, Emi can use her tears to fill small pots which pool your tears and pours them into the ground. Your sympathy for the tiny creature has given you the capability to replenish the devastated earth. As small flowers start to sprout its a sign that life will return. It’s a quiet humble message that could have come straight from the films of Hayo Miyazaki.
I think the way Tiny Echo touches upon something that is rarely explored enough in videogames, it engages the player in both communal and empathetic acts. This environmental and communal message is emphasized again at the end of the game. When you have completed your rounds and have given all the spirits their post, they all gather together at the end and use their powers on the wasteland that was shown at the beginning of the game. They bestow plants, water, and life back to the scorched earth helping the faceless creatures rejuvenate their home, its the ultimate communal gift.
I think games such as Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley also engage the player in communal activities but Tiny Echo’s environmental standpoint that makes it a unique, heart-warming experience. The game has masterfully conjured a wonderful, dreamlike world where strange creature and spirits live in a peaceful coexistence. It at first might seem strange and surreal, but as you wander and meet the sprints and creatures of this mysterious realm you learn that this spirit community is peaceful and welcoming. A community built on a shared identity and shared empathy.