Review – Etherborn

Puzzle platformers are a dime a dozen these days. Typically they have some sort of a storyline, a clear objective, and collectables to pick up along the way. Etherborn, from Altered Matter, throws all of this out of the window and still manages to deliver a solid game.

You play as a somewhat translucent humanoid figure being awakened by a disembodied voice. It gives you no good explanations nor concrete answers as to why you are here or what you should be doing. All you have to go on are your natural curiosity and platforming instincts. Luckily, those are the key components to beating his game.

Etherborn

It’s like an MC Escher design with a GRIS coat of paint.

Etherborn is very much a 3D platformer that is reminiscent of titles like Super Mario Galaxy and Monument Valley. You will have to solve environmental puzzles all in gravity-altering situations. Each level can be accessed by making you way through the main hub: a gargantuan tree appropriately named the “Endless Tree” There’s no clear goal in sight, other than to keep moving on. It’s essentially a game created out of the twisted mind of MC Escher and that’s more than fine with me.

There aren’t any collectables in Etherborn per se, but the levels do focus around you finding and picking up white glowing orbs scattered throughout each set. In conjunction with the orbs are empty switches that you can place them into. Doing so will alter the environment around you in any number of ways, ranging from raising a bridge allowing you access to a previously unreachable location, to adding a whole new section of the set piece to further traverse. In some cases you’ll need to manipulate these pieces in order to find all the orbs or get to where you need to go next.

Etherborn

Light ’em up!

The gameplay mechanics are very simple; you can walk, run, and jump. What sets Etherborn apart from other 3D platformers is its unusual gravitational manipulation. You can essentially walk on any surface as long as your feet are touching it. If there is a curved surface connecting the floor to the wall, then you will be able to go from walking around in a “normal” direction on the floor to walking along the walls instead. If you come across a curved edge from one wall to the next, then you’ll be able to walk along the walls from a different direction. This is how you’ll be able to investigate everything within the levels: by exploring them from literally every angle.

Etherborn

I hope he’s not afraid of heights.

Gravity is still always in play, even if it’s following its own rules at its core. That means that you can jump from one ledge to another, drop down to a surface below you, and even fall to your doom. Luckily, dying isn’t permanent and you’ll thankfully respawn to the last ledge you were on very quickly. This is a blessing considering how many times you’ll plummet to you death. You’ll more than likely die quite a bit in some sections (I sure did), but at least you can get back to playing right away. Whether it’s from experimenting with the environment, misjudging a leap or a drop, or simply from dealing with a weird camera angle, you can expect to meet your demise at least a few times.

Etherborn is an absolutely beautiful game. Its art style is fairly simplistic, but the color palettes vary quite a bit from level to level. This along with the drastically different designs of the sets, make each setting feel unique. It reminds me a bit of GRIS in this manner. Each level has its own distinctive look and seems like they all have a story to tell, but the meaning behind them never becomes clear.

Etherborn

That’s not creepy at all.

The disembodied voice can be heard at the start of the game as well as in between each level. The voice speaks vaguely about the lost fate of the humans, but the point never becomes apparent. No doubt this was Altered Matter’s attempt at providing a story to give the game purpose, but the story is never fully fleshed out and the questions remain unanswered. It would have been better to have had no vocalized story at all and instead let the players draw their own conclusions about what is going on.

The music is a strong suit of Etherborn. Each level has its own musical piece that fits the feel of the setting well. The whole soundtrack is very soothing and tranquil, which greatly adds to the beauty and tone of the game. Even when getting stuck in a level and retracing my steps over and over, the whole experience still felt like an almost meditative journey, largely thanks to the serene melodies.

Etherborn

Behold the Endless Tree. Needless to say, the name fits.

Etherborn is an ambitious game that tries to give players a truly unique adventure. While it misses the mark in certain areas, like the story, it nails it in plenty of others. Its clever use of manipulating gravitational pull and changing set pieces at times provide a really tough challenge. Thinking outside the box is a must in order to complete the game and solving the levels offers a truly gratifying experience. My biggest complaint is that it is a really short game, only taking about five hours or so to complete. I guess that’s the mark of a good game though; leaving the player wanting more. For fans of puzzle platformers, Etherborn is a game that they shouldn’t let disappear into the ether.

 

Graphics: 8.0

The simplistic graphics are complemented by various color schemes and well designed sets.

Gameplay: 9.0

The controls are simple, and the use of changing the direction of the gravitational pull is truly inventive. The camera can be annoying every now and then, though.

Sound: 8.5

The disembodied voice is decently delivered. The music is where the sound design really shines. Its calm and tranquil tones make for a relaxing experience.

Fun Factor: 7.5

The unique gravity mechanics and manipulating the environments around you make for an original, fun, and challenging time. However, the story isn’t very developed and leaves a lot unexplained.

Final Verdict: 8.0

Etherborn is available now on PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Switch.

Reviewed on Xbox One.

A copy of Etherborn was provided by the publisher.