It's essentially Znax, but considerably less enjoyable.
If it wasn't for the fact that I've spent the past couple of evenings playing Yoomp! and Crownland, this review would probably be more in Eckn's favour. However, the truth is that the above releases have really opened my eyes as to what the 8-Bit Atari is capable of, and as a result I'm sorry to say that Eckn is a bit of a disappointment.
In short, Eckn is an uninspired 8-Bit Atari port of Znax; a modern casual score-attack game in which you earn points by finding squares/oblong using the same colour corner tiles within a grid. It's a relatively original concept (and Paradize did a great job with their Atari STE version reviewed back in RGCD #01) but Eckn isn't particularly well executed; the game is neither visually or aurally attractive and (compared to some of the other ABBUC SW Compo entries) even the game-play fails to impress.
My initial gripe with the game is with the control method. Znax is a game that was designed to be played via a mouse; you need to be able to move your cursor around the grid quickly if you're to have any chance of achieving a decent score. Unfortunately, Eckn's comparatively sluggish joystick or keyboard control method acts as a hindrance to fast "Znaxing" - although responsive enough, you'll never be able to select corner tiles as fast as you could with a proper pointing device.
Berlin Softworks have clearly attempted to compensate for this by implementing wrapping across the vertical and horizontal axis of the grid (a good thing) and also by only requiring the player to select two diagonally opposite corners. Unfortunately I found this latter alteration to the game to be a bit tricky to get used to, and although it makes sense in practice, it didn't work particularly well for me - I generally use the corner dots to help visualise the dimensions and boundaries of the oblong I'm laying out. The two-corner concept would have been excellent if there was some sort of dynamic outline created after selecting the first corner that followed the location of your cursor, but as it is I found it a bit awkward.
Another of Eckn's shortcomings is its presentation. Much to the annoyance of some of the other members of the RGCD team, I genuinely don't like criticising games in my reviews; wherever possible I much prefer to encourage developers and celebrate the good points of retro homebrew. However, there's no escaping the fact that Eckn is an ugly game; the title screen is blockier than your average VIC-20 release and the in-game graphics pale in comparison to some of the other more recent Atari homebrew projects. Also, and much to my bemusement, as well as the main in-game grid and timer there's a low-resolution rendition of what appears to be a female(?) equivalent of Max Headroom gracing the bottom left corner of the screen. Aside from instructing (very slowly) how to play the game in the somewhat unnecessary tutorial and following the movements of your cursor around the playfield, it seems that 'Exi's sole reason for existence is to randomly bark out unhelpful, annoying and occasionally obscure comments whilst you're playing the game. This unwarranted addition to the Znax formula seems an odd choice.
It should come as no real surprise that Eckn is a solo effort, with the graphics, coding and music all created by a one-man team. It's a notable debut effort, but as an ABBUC SW competition entry it's equally unsurprising that Eckn only achieved fifth place.