Playing with perspective has long been a tradition of video games. Games like Echochrome and Monument Valley give gamers a chance to try and reshape how they see the world so they can advance in it. Equally interested in this idea is Etherborn, a puzzle game where you’ll be walking on walls and falling in ways gravity didn’t intend. I got a chance to play the first hour of this new puzzler. Will I be coming back to have my brain teased, or did I see enough to keep me away?
The basics to Etherborn are rather simple. You play as a character that mostly looks like a strange mannequin with an overly detailed nervous system. Whatever they are, they’re traveling along a giant tree, hitting portals on its branches to bring them to mysterious locations. Once you’re there, you need to collect keys to activate parts of the level and get to a portal out. At first, this is really easy. Just run and jump, grab some keys, put them in the right spot, and keep going. Naturally, it won’t stay this way.
Before long, Etherborn‘s central mechanic introduces itself. If you come across a wall with a gentle slope, the main character can walk up against it. This actually alters gravity for the character completely. You’re not just standing on the wall, you’ll also fall sideways too. Need to get to another platform? Walk up a nearby wall, drop to a wall on that platform, then walk off the way. Simple? Very. But to get where you want to, you’ll actually need to use this mechanic in clever ways. More than once I found myself stumped, working a level over in my head several times before I realized that I needed to find an object to land on that I just didn’t expect.
While this is nice, this was all there really was to it. By the end of the hour-long demo, I was already looking for new mechanics. Will the full game provide it? I don’t know yet, and this is something that’s worrying me. I can only fall off ledges and find keys so many times before I start looking for something new. One stage had a water trap, which I guess was unique but all that meant was avoiding that part of the level. At the very least, falling into a waterfall is kind of hilarious. The way water doesn’t turn as you do is smart, giving you a moving hazard you occasionally need to dodge around.
While the puzzles may start getting stale, I have an interest in seeing where the story goes. As far as I can tell, the main character is hunting down a mysterious glowing light, which spends its time musing about the creation and acts of humanity. It’s not really much of a coherent plotline, but it feels more like Etherborn is trying to get across general ideas and philosophies. It kept me hooked, and I want to see what kind of ideas can really be shown off here. It also helps that the voice acting on the glowing light is good, perfectly giving off the vibe of a creepy omnipresent being.
Another thing keeping me involved in Etherborn is its art. This is a stunningly beautiful game. Each world feels perfectly otherworldly, while also vaguely connected to recognizable objects. It’s clear the art style is leaning towards abstractly looking like a nervous system, and that manages to fit the tone of the game really well. There’s also a great soundtrack, full of pianos and string instruments that manage to fit the levels very well.
I’m still a little concerned about Etherborn‘s puzzles. There needs to be more mechanics for the full game. However, the rest of the package is in great shape. The philosophy is compelling, the game is beautiful, and there really are some good ideas here. It’s certainly worth keeping an eye on, and there’s potential for some real puzzling goodness if the full package can find a little more to do.
Etherborn was previewed on PC via Steam using a copy provided by the developer. The game will be launching in Spring 2019 for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.