Eternum Ex review — Ghosts ‘n grandpas

A long time ago, Sir Arthur was a strong and gallant knight. Now he is an old man. His loved ones have passed away and he has nothing to look forward to but his own death. Thus, Arthur decides to go on one last adventure to find the source of eternal youth. Enter Eternum Ex, an arcade platformer developed by Radin Games.

Eternum Ex was originally developed as Eternum and is an enhanced version of the latter. The core gameplay remains the same: You take control of Arthur in your quest to collect up all of the treasure which is scattered in small, but densely packed, rooms while dodging and slaying whatever foes try to prevent you from doing so.

Most levels focus on one or two enemy types.

Once all treasure chests have been collected, a portal in the centre of the room opens up and allows you to move on to the next stage. All levels are fairly short and fit on a screen or two. There are five stages with five levels each, but the Eternum Ex’s difficulty will keep you busy long enough.

Despite his advanced age, Sir Arthur is neither slow nor defenceless. Backed up by smooth and responsive controls, he runs as swiftly as most enemies and deals deadly blows with his walking cane. He also does not seem to have any issues carrying the many, many treasure chests that fill all of the regular levels.

Red treasure chests can be collected right away, but green treasure chests are chained shut. To break the chains, Arthur needs to jump into the chest from a platform below. This adds a strategic element to Externum Ex. Monsters fill the small rooms quickly and deciding when to take which chest is crucial.

Coming to you straight from the somewhat obscure Psychic 5.

Those who like to maximise their score can hit the regular red chest from below. While not necessary to collect them, opening a chest like this will increase its value. However, it might also cost time that you may or may not have. Eternum Ex runs on a fairly strict timer, further increasing its fast pace.

Arthur’s trusty walking cane is not his only weapon. Various pickups give our senior citizen protagonist a boost. Lightning orbs temporarily allow him to shoot fireballs. Other power-ups fill the screen with fireballs, grant you additional points or extend your time limit.

What to grab first? The Choice is yours.

Most items disappear rather quickly, but the lightning orbs are pre-placed and can be collected at any point. This adds another tactical element to the game. Other items, even those not dropped by enemies, evaporate quickly, which can lead to some frustration in the boss stages and makes it difficult to utilise attack items properly.

Every fifth level in Eternum Ex is a boss level. Boss levels scroll vertically and contain no treasure chests. Instead, your goal is to guide Arthur to the top, collect items on the way and face a boss. Bosses can be tough — significantly more so than regular levels.

A saving grace here is the life system. Arthur dies from a single hit, but respawns wherever he passed away, provided you have any extra lives left. With enough of those, you can avoid having to climb to the top of the boss chamber again.

This charming map looks familiar.

Regular stages only have a handful of different enemies, but the monster variety is high. Initially, you face goblins that jump around and disappear into the ground. Then, ghoulish women enter the scene and dash towards you as soon as they spot you.

Flying man-eating eggplants join the struggle later. They can home in on you, but will not pass through walls. These monsters are only the start. Some monsters reappear later, usually buffed up in one way or another, forcing you to adjust your approach to each and every level.

The difficulty ramps up quickly, but as arcadey as Eternum Ex is, it never reaches the cruelty level of some arcade classics. Externum Ex offers two modes. The first one limits your continues, but allows you to save after every stage. Thus, you will never lose too much progress. The second one has no saving whatsoever, but grants you unlimited continues, essentially emulating arcade machine quarter feeding.

This stage is full of angry zombie ladies.

The latter mode requires some endurance, but with some patience, you will see all of Externum Ex’s colourful stages sooner or later. The game sports a catchy soundtrack and pleasant 16-bit graphics. More debatable is its scan line filter. While an obvious throwback to CRT monitor standards, scan lines do not work the same on modern monitors, nor are they supposed to be.

Eternum Ex resembles old arcade games not just visually. Its core gameplay is lifted straight from Baluba-louk no Densetsu with a dash of Bomb Jack and possibly Lode Runner. The level select screen is reminiscent of the Ghosts’ n Goblins map, which also provided the name of the protagonist. Externmu Ex even references the somewhat obscure Psychic 5 with its vertical level design and the devil boss of the first stage.

All of this is deliberate. Eternum Ex name drops these games right on its homepage and never hides where its takes its inspiration from — nor should it, as recreating the feel and spirit of arcade classics is its stated goal.

A segmented serpent — a classic.

Eternum Ex is not a terribly complex game. It does not do a whole lot, but what it does is executed well. If you enjoy fast and frantic arcade gameplay, but do not mind a slight drop in the level of frustration some arcade classics provide you with, you should try Eternum Ex.

Eternum Ex is available on PC, PlayStation 4, XBox One and Nintendo Switch.

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