Playing with the laws of physics is something generally left to scientists, but every so often, game developers give it a go too.
Etherborn is a prime example of a game that takes these laws and bends them to its own will, and it makes for some interesting gameplay.
You play Etherborn as a nameless, skinless being, which straight away shows you the kind of things you’ll be dealing with in this game. Everything feels a little off and a little unusual, but the game developers have made it work, and twisted it into an entertaining and unique platform puzzler. The being you are playing as is guided through the levels by a voice, also unsurprisingly nameless, faceless, and bodiless.
You are never really told why you are exploring these levels or completing these puzzles, which is a little frustrating at times. You can feel like you are just endlessly wandering with no aim. This is also accompanied by a slightly unsatisfying ending, which is a shame as I felt like my achievement of completing the game was lessened.
The levels themselves are filled with puzzles requiring you to collect orbs to open up new paths and allow you to carry on to the next level. Whilst these start fairly simplistic, the difficulty is soon vamped up, and you will end every which way up and down the level before you find the way out.
Etherborn requires some out of the box thinking and the ability to understand different perspectives and angles in order to figure out where you need to go. I found this an interesting challenge, and not one I had often faced in games before, which makes for a nice change.
There’s a lot of running and a lot of twisting and a lot of turning, but luckily, the levels are pleasing to look at whilst doing this. Eye-catching colours and grand platforms make for some big impact levels, but these are also counteracted with a lot of vast nothingness in the backgrounds. This emphasis on how small the being is in the level is the perfect metaphor for how small humans are in comparison to the world; this was a really nice and well thought out comparison for the game to make.
The experience can be a frustrating one at times, but this was contrasted with long sections of running with nothing to focus on, and you can simply enjoy the music and environment.
It is a game of mixed emotions, where I found myself scratching my head one minute and being overjoyed the next when finally figuring out a puzzle that had plagued me for too long. With only a handful of levels, which can be extended with New Game+ once you complete Etherborn, this is an experience that is short but sweet.
Platform: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4, Xbox One
Developer: Altered Matter
Publisher: Altered Matter
Release Date: July 18, 2019
For a platformer puzzler hybrid, Etherborn ticks most of the boxes in terms of having complex puzzles that are neither too easy or too difficult. The soundtrack and environment both compliment the game’s theme, but you don’t really spend enough time with it to be wowed. An interesting mechanic with the gravity-based puzzles means it’s recommendable to genre fans, but it’s not for everyone.
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