A visually and conceptually intriguing puzzle platformer, Etherborn is slated for release later in 2019. We’ve had two chances to go hands on with the game, and it’s time for a preview.
What we know
Developer Altered State, based out of Barcelona, has been gathering attention as well as awards at various game shows for about two years now. The reason for that is Etherborn, their upcoming puzzle platformer that is coming to PC and console later this year.
Although it has pressure switches for you to operate and moving platforms to activate, Etherborn comes with a twist – gravity doesn’t work quite the same way you expect it to. Or it does, until it doesn’t. Approach a wall, and you’ll bump into it. If it’s low enough, you might jump onto a higher level, but otherwise you’re just stuck and need to turn in order to keep moving. But if the surface where the floor meets the wall is curved, you’ll keep walking and find yourself on that wall as though it was the floor.
Gravity will also shift when you do this, so jumping won’t mean you fall back to the previous “floor” and you have to be careful not to plummet down – sideways off the screen. Because of this ever-shifting gravity, you can sometimes find yourself walking across a bridge while glued to its side, or circling around the side of a column. It’s hard to explain in words what is easy to understand in a short trailer, so I encourage everyone to take a look at some footage of the game in action.
What we saw
We first went hands on with Etherborn during last summer’s edition of Gamescom, where we met with the developer and were able to go play as few of the game’s early levels as they answered questions and guided us along. In the half year since then, Altered State has continued development on the game and recently offered us the chance to play a snippet of the game at our own leosure.
This playable preview included the first three levels of the game, which had some overlap with the Gamescom demo but also included some new material.
What we thought
It’s hard not to be grabbed by Etherborn the moment you first see it in action. It’s the sensation we had last summer when we booked our Gamescom meeting, and that fascination was still there when we booted up the game. Visually, it’s like you’re traversing an Escher painting in real time – and as you learn the ropes there are plenty of “ooooh, that’s how to do it!” moments.
The approach isn’t entire new (Ty Taylor’s The Bridge did something similar), but Etherborn is the first title I’ve seen the blends this visual experience with classic platforming elements and a more free-flowing experience rather than the condensed puzzles that The Bridge offered.
One point of worry is that the novelty does wear off a little after you get comfortable with the basic notions of the game and how gravity works (and doesn’t) as you traverse walls, columns and find yourself hanging from a ceiling. A lot will depend on clever new ways to use the mechanic, or the inclusion of creative puzzles. Having only played the first three levels, it feels like we may have only scratched the surface so far.
One thing’s certain though, and it’s that Etherborn is – audiovisually speaking – one of the most striking puzzle platformers to date. Each level feels aesthetically different from the last one, and the music appears to shift to fit the current visual style as well. This makes for an engaging experience, so let’s hope the long term puzzle design lives up to it.