Etherborn is a 3D puzzle platformer with many twists and turns… literally. The laws of gravity shifts as you continue to traverse it, with mind-bending puzzles and platforming challenges. Do this whilst questioning ones own existence, constantly making your way up The Endless Tree and following the faceless voice that beckons you.
Etherborn’s puzzle element is ingrained within its platforming as it requires you to think about the direction that the gravity is pushing down towards. This ingenious technique may have been revolutionary over ten years ago, but Etherborn uses this in a way that consistently makes you think about every move you take.
Throughout each segment, you are tasked with collecting the required amount of keys in order to unlock the next path onwards. This isn’t always as straightforward as it may seem as it requires you to use them in a strategic manner.
What may be confusing at first is needing to fall from one platform to another whilst keeping in mind the direction that the gravity is pulling you towards. There were some moments where this could have become really frustrating but luckily, Altered Matter had the foresight to included a light that shines through platforms onto those below you so that you know how you line up.
The general feel of the game is smooth, with nary a technical hiccup. However, the character that you control can sometimes feel unresponsive or difficult to control. As the levels progress, the puzzles begin to become more complex, taking shapes that hide many different avenues to take. Despite some harsh difficulty spikes, the answer is always right in front of you – so keep looking!
Etherborn contains some nice HD Rumble effects that occur during the right moments. It makes the boulders crumbling above feel more impactful or the bridges forming shape more rewarding.
Level / World Design
Any 3D platformer, as they are much more rare than they should be, requires a great level of challenges with creative inventiveness. It gets boring simply jumping from one platform to the next. Etherborn has taken inspiration from the gravity-based platforming that we saw in Super Mario Galaxy and has implemented puzzle elements, requiring you to think ahead without mindlessly jumping around the place.
For a 3D platforming puzzle game, I was initially wary of how the camera would operate. I had initially thought of a Captain Toad approach where the camera was integral to uncovering secrets, however Etherborn takes a more complex approach in its level design. At first, I was disappointed when I discovered that using the right analogue stick only moves the direction you are looking at from a first-person perspective and doesn’t revolve around the character. However, I quickly realised how ingenious this decision was as the camera often takes the lead automatically, focussing more attention on exploration and finding hidden secrets and pathways on foot.
The hub world is The Endless Tree to which you run up and around its roots and branches to go from one level to the next. While it’s not very exciting in terms of gameplay as the tree has strictly linear pathways, the twists and turns, as well as the picturesque moments it provides, are certainly treats in and of itself.
Etherborn’s plot takes a much more omnipresent approach, discussing the origin of humanity’s inception and its struggles to define itself. For those who didn’t come into Etherborn to experience a story that discusses the universe and its inception, it may come across as overdramatic and pretentious, but it is certainly adds to Etherborn’s overall presentation and creates a very rewarding experience nonetheless.
The plot is narrated through a faceless female voice that often feels a little awkward as the dialogue is not something you would usually hear in a video game. While it contains the ambiguity that allows you to gloat to your friends without fully understanding it yourself, you may feel that the dialogue and presentation just doesn’t sit right.
The dynamic cutscenes provide a presence of grandeur, complimenting the story that is far greater than a translucent humanoid character simply jumping from one platform to the next. Some of these scenes are exceptionally breathtaking which took me by complete surprise.
Graphics / Art Direction
The presentation is both spectacularly detailed and wonderfully simplistic. Every model has an obvious polygonal design that is well done to the point where the world remains just as believable.
The polygonal effect actually makes it easier to see rounded edges that changes the directions of the gravity. Another way of doing this could have been with arrows or another less subtle addition, but that would have distracted from Etherborn’s elegant art direction.
As I continued through the game, I continued to notice focussing effects that made going from one area to the next that much more impactful.
Music / Sound Design
The soundtrack is elegant and subtle, with a beautiful blend of strings, piano and woodwind instruments that creates a serene world to explore. It rarely oversteps its boundaries, rather it creates a relaxing atmosphere that beautifully compliments the game’s visuals.
The sound effects are impactful and at the same time, not demanding. As you traverse each area, your footsteps thud with a more commanding presence that allows you to feel every step you take. The wind in more wide open areas provides a much grander perspective of the scene and the rustling of weeds growing out between the cracks is a nice touch.
Final Score: 88%
If Super Mario Galaxy and GRIS had a baby, it would be Etherborn. The ingenuity of the gravity-based puzzle platforming coupled with its absolutely stunning presentation makes Etherborn a game that simply must be played by any fan of the 3D platforming genre, or just of great games in general.