Inception has totally ruined me. I can never see anyone twist gravity and walk on walls without hearing that iconic "BWAMP" that the trailers used. Such is the case with Etherborn, a puzzle game where you walk on walls and defy gravity. Every single time I walked on a wall I would hear that BWAMP in my head. In a way I guess this meant Etherborn had some lofty expectations to live up to. I already got a chance to try the game out back in April. Now with the full game in my hands, it's time to see if Etherborn can stick to the walls, or if it just falls off.
Etherborn doesn't really have a story in the traditional sense. Instead, it's more like one monologue, musing about ideas of humanity and ego. You'll play as a weird mannequin-looking person that has a detailed nervous system, and your goal is to get to the top of a giant tree. It works fine for what it is, but I'll fully admit that I didn't really pull anything out of it. At the very least the voice acting for the monologue is fine and never took me out of the moment.
Upside Down and Inside Out
The basic gameplay is that you need to run around and jump to collect orbs that you can put into sockets to help you get to the end of the level. In addition, you have one unique ability to help you with this. If you walk on a slope then you'll turn gravity with you, allowing you to walk on walls or fall sideways. This is Etherborn's central gimmick. By the end of the game, you won't have any new abilities or tools, you'll just find different environments for you to fall around in. There's nothing wrong with this, and in fact, sometimes the puzzles used it in creative ways. I had one level where I needed to activate switches to assemble new pieces on to the level and could use them to reach areas I couldn't before.
Each level also has its own little twist on the formula to help make it stand out. The second level features water hazards, which you have to be careful not to fall into as doing so will kill you instantly. The third has pillars that rise and fall depending on both how close to them you are if you're facing the same direction as them. You can use these both as walls and walkways with a bit of creative work. Then the fourth level combines these two for a final test.
Yes, final test. Herein lies the biggest issue with Etherborn. With only a tutorial and four levels, it's ridiculously short. The length will likely vary based on how good you are at puzzles, but I can't see it taking more than four hours even for those who are terrible at them, and my personal playtime was only somewhere around two hours. There's simply not enough game here, and this ties into the weirdness around a lack of new ideas. It feels like there's so much potential for Etherborn to explore new ideas, but instead, it just awkwardly ends. It's frustrating seeing this potential squandered when the mechanics could be better utilized.
Once you finish the game you'll unlock a New Game Plus mode. The idea is that the levels are the same, but the placement of the orbs you need to collect has changed. For example, one of the first orbs in the game is right next to the panel you need to use it on. In the second mode, it's hidden in a bush somewhere in the background. The idea isn't bad, but these aren't really new levels, just remixes of the same four you've already played. After replaying the first, I felt no need to give it more.
Etherborn Review | Final Thoughts
That kind of describes how I felt coming out of Etherborn. I felt no need to give it more. There's a great puzzle game in here somewhere. However, without the content to back it up, that greatness never comes to pass. I want to find new and creative ways to manipulate gravity to solve harder and more unique puzzles. I want levels with more gimmicks that I need to figure out. Instead, Etherborn shows off a few clever ideas, then promptly ends without exploring them to the extent that they could be.
TechRaptor reviewed Etherborn on PC via Steam using a copy provided by the developers. The game is also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.
Etherborn has all the good ideas for a clever puzzle game. Then it ends after only four levels, never exploring its mechanics in a way that makes them stand out.(Review Policy)
- Smart Mechanics
- Cool Level Gimmicks
- Doesn't Expand on Mechanics
- Way Too Short