Who doesn’t like a puzzle game? Probably a lot of people, so let’s move on with that one, but I will say that I like a challenge here and there. I also like ambiguity, so imagine my delight when I got to play Etherborn, by Altered Matter.
Eventually, I will stop each review with ‘I didn’t know anything about this game until I saw it on the eShop’, but that’s how it is mostly. I seldom follow gaming news (hence lack of anything like that on my site), and I’m not really in the circles that promote a game. It’s mostly trial and error.
Etherborn has quite the past, with a reasonable degree of backing and support from fellow gamers. What’s so special about Etherborn? It’s the way it implements gravity and switches around the 3D plain you are standing on to solve a puzzle.
Lack of an Origin Story
Nothing is explained about who you are or your real purpose, other than the undertones of humanity and evolution. A mysterious voice guides you, a sentient being that roams the land in search of orbs of light. With these orbs of light, you can solve new puzzles or unlock pathways to new areas.
In the beginning, you rise from a pool and follow the voice as mentioned earlier. With a tree of life sort of theme, you being your first gravity-defying moment and walk up the side without any fear of falling. You can twist and turn and flip around the land you stand on so that you can navigate to another area or what-not.
Looks are deceiving and merely rotating the world reveals a new location or pathway to another previously unobtainable place. It’s very much physics at its best in the mould of a game like The Bridge; only Etherborn is incredibly vibrant and ethereal.
Looks Can Be Deceiving, But Predominantly, They’re Beautiful
Etherborn doesn’t implement the best use of graphics – it’s very stripped down, and the main character is quite simple. I wasn’t a fan of the animation when they move, but it doesn’t ruin the game. The figure is faceless literally, and that makes sense as they have zero depth. It isn’t needed, though, as the narrative is very dreamlike and doesn’t need an explanation every five minutes.
The actual worlds, like The Bridge and also some elements of Violett, are heavily influenced by M.C. Escher. Either the artist or the end sequence of the David Bowie vehicle, Labyrinth, was an influence. I know where I’m placing my bets. In Etherborn, these designs work a lot better, though they aren’t without their problems.
Often you will find yourself wandering around, not knowing where to go or what to do. Sometimes the answer is staring you right in the face, other times it’s illogical and doesn’t make any sense. At times it’s the level design, then again, you (me) may lack the brain capacity to think outside the box.
Gravity Isn’t Without Its Problems
Flipping around a level – if that’s what we can call it – can have significant consequences. You can progress to another area previously unavailable, but it turns gravity on its head and should you jump, you may find yourself falling into the lower depths.
Though you can’t theoretically die in the game; you respawn again. But you will ‘die’ many times – whether it’s underestimating gravity, walking too close to the edge, or crossing a toxic substance, it will happen, just not as much as Dark Souls Remastered, plus not as frustrating.
Puzzles can be frustrating, though. There aren’t any tooltips or assistance through the game. The voice is just the thread of life, not the voice of logic, so expect to get stumped a few times – maybe more. These problems aren’t unsolvable, but as touched upon earlier, they are sometimes illogical and brings on a rage quit. Or does it?
Let the Concept of Etherborn Float Through Your Mind
The music is very calming and coupled with the bright graphics and the vivid scenery; it’s hard to get wound up as such. Instead, you become a little more vacant; not understanding what the solution is, but maybe a little sedated from the ambience.
I found Etherborn quite a revelation to some degree. There are puzzle games that have tackled physics the same way, but Etherborn is a little more bespoke, and some of the locations and puzzles are bordering on genius.
From my experience, I can’t fault the tone. As I said, this is very dreamlike and leaves unanswered questions – but in a positive light. Again, I like the ambiguity. However, I don’t quite feel that Etherborn is something that I will return to frequently. Perhaps it is a game that I will demo to someone to show its brilliance, but it doesn’t have much longevity. Etherborn is a showcase of what you can create in a game, but not a title that will change the gaming world just yet.