Etherborn, from developer Altered Matter, is a perspective-shifting puzzle-platformer which sees players exploring and manipulating the world using the protagonist’s ability to not just scale walls, but walk-up them — shifting the character’s gravity so that it’s aligned to the surface they’re now mounted on.
Players play a new-born, humanoid form, one with translucent skin and pink internal organs, muscles and bones. A voice rattles out around the lagoon you start within, leading you toward a grand, clamouring tree — her path to the world above, and the path to finding her voice.
The dreamlike lagoon, with its glowing mushrooms, dancing ripples and ancient ruins are poignant, and playing the game in the Leftfield Collection at EGX, I was surprised to find that I wouldn’t be spending more time walking on water, watching my reflection dance. I’d have actually been quite happy had the game simply been a narrative exploration game spent wandering caverns and underground riverways, had it all been made with that level of detail and care.
The world above is definitely better though. Floating in clouds and space, littered with strange objects and plants, Etherborn’s overworld is a maze of vast pillars and floating islands. It’s here that the main character’s ability to run up curved edges to change the puzzle playing-field comes into play. Switches litter the world, extending and retracting passageways among the broken islands, and it’s only through changing surface (and from there, often taking a leap of faith, or dropping down to a previously useless platform) that you can get to them and progress further.
Undoubtedly the main issue the developers have had to contend with is the camera angle and height levels of the game, how fast it adapts as players make their way around objects — which can be potentially walked along on six sides, but can also extend to great heights and widths. It does take some getting used to, and ultimately requires you to manoeuvre around multiple facings to spot the path forward, or the point you need to reach to warp the landscape.
It’s hard to talk about specifics with Etherborn, as I don’t know how far my half-an-hour with Etherborn’s demo build got me into the game; but a moment that has stuck with me even more than the lagoon at the start is of a greenhouse with two evenly ramped sides, and a differently ramped back. This greenhouse was more than a simple object, because the back-ramp was at an exact 90-degree angle to the ground it rested on. In most games this building would have been a puzzle in itself, however having spent some time with the game it was instantly recognisable as a potential platform from which to jump and wrap around onto the side of the ground it stood upon. Phew.
Etherborn is due out at some point in 2018 for Windows PC and Xbox One. Other platforms are yet to be announced.
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