Etherborn is a tricky, platforming puzzle game that bends gravity to its every whim and asks players to discover their purpose in a world devoid of logic.
Born into a polygonal world with stark colors and twisting pathways, Etherborn offers up a different take on platforming that I personally haven’t seen before. To progress towards the swirling electric wire-embedded sphere that serves as your goal in each level, you must use curved surfaces that allow you to walk on walls in order to find the correct path. Each level is meticulously detailed as its own particular puzzle, and the game tends to bend your perception of what is possible, sometimes literally making you move your character whilst upside-down. The whole experience is wrapped around a story that makes my fourth grade poetry look deep, but it’s the beauty in the puzzle-solving and world that truly defines what makes Etherborn so brilliant.
The faceless persona you don in Etherborn is a wireframe-outlined see-through humanoid, with translucent skin that reveals their organs. You can physically see your heartbeat through the character’s chest during the opening cutscene, and it certainly speaks volumes for the vulnerability of this newborn entity that you represent. There aren’t many games out there that use this style — it’s refreshing to see a new take on art in a game that redefines what is possible within a puzzle game.
As you wind your way through the five different levels of the game, you’ll be doing a lot of cardio. Running and jumping across gaps is a quickly learned and utilized method of solving simple platforming puzzles, and it expands itself from there. There are keys in this strange world, which are represented by wireframe dodecahedrons, and they fit into panels on the floor, wall, ceiling — whatever you wish to call it. Once set into a panel, these keys bring upon changes to the environment: panels and sections fly in from the beyond to add on to the puzzle, bridging gaps that weren’t there previously, and ultimately allowing further progress. Luckily, each key can be and often is used multiple times, each one interchangeable for another, allowing swapping of structures to fit the current necessity.
Finding your path can be quite a difficult affair, as it’s not always the way you would assume. Seeing a ‘keyhole’ off on an unreachable surface sets your sights for your current goal, but it’s a matter of figuring out how to alter your upright position so that you can either drop onto the surface or walk on a wall that turns you that direction. It’s all very Escher in its ability to bend your perception of reality, and sometimes when you are walking on an incline or moving around upside-down while the camera points up at you, it can be a bit disorienting. Thankfully, since it’s a puzzle game with no enemies or general consequence for error, you have all the time in the world to ease into these impossible situations and means of transporting your character across these twisting labyrinthian worlds.
Etherborn offers up a beautiful soundtrack to compliment its detailed complexities, with intricate notes and running melodies that change as much as the environment does. It really sells the experience and serves as a running mood of how you should feel in each area. There is also a distinct color scheme that represents each level of the game, where different surfaces are defined by their own color or set of colors. This helps you understand what surface or path you are currently running on, making progression a bit more noticeable, and giving you a visual representation of where you are in the world — something that is tougher to follow than you would think. The team did a wonderful job at combining all these elements to create a fairly challenging game that requires you to spend some time analyzing the pieces you are presented with in order to fully grasp what the levels are telling you by their design. Each time I reached the ‘aha!’ moment in order to progress, it was due to me discovering a new path or angle that I hadn’t thought of before, making the joy of discovery fun and refreshing.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Etherborn, and even though the game wrapped up in a few hours, I felt that it was a full experience which was intelligently designed from beginning to end. Those looking to spend even more time challenging Etherborn’s mazes can revisit the game, thanks to a ‘New Game +’ mode, which offers additional keys and pathways to complicate things. Etherborn sets the bar quite high for platforming puzzle games coming out in the future in terms of smart design and brilliant artwork, and offers up a unique take on impossible geometry puzzlers like Monument Valley. It’s a great game for puzzle game veterans and newbies alike, as it takes the idea of a simple concept and expands it in wild new ways in a world that is too beautiful not to explore.