Etherborn is a puzzle game from developer and publisher Altered Matter, who are a small five person team based in Barcelona. It is a curious game, as on one hand the puzzles are challenging and thought provoking, but its enveloped in a baffling and dull story that I immediately forgot once I had completed the game.
Etherborn is essentially a 3D puzzle game where your character has to traverse the landscape searching for orbs that are used to operate switches and therefore open an exit. The hook comes with the fact that all the surfaces on the world can be accessed and walked upon. Curved edges provide an easy walking path to the adjoining side, and as you do so the camera shifts around to make you feel you are once again walking on the ground. Sometimes the camera doesn’t shift which requires you to walk either upside down or sideways, which test your abilty to work the controls backwards.. The levels are cleverly designed, especially when you have to drop off an edge in order to reach a previously unreachable area. This isn’t made any easier by the fact that gravity definitely doesn’t work as you would expect it to, as if you are on the side of the world the gravity will send you off to the side, and not down! Shifting position on the world will cleverly open new routes to orbs and switches.
There were numerous occasions where I felt I was stuck, but careful exploration revealed a previously unfound route to my destination. You really do need to explore the level carefully, as on more than one occasion I thought I had done something completely wrong, before finally finding an obvious path that I had never explored, which took me to a side of the world I had never even seen!
All the puzzles are linear in design, and there is only one way to complete a level. Some levels will contain blocks that will raise when you approach them in order to hinder your path and prevent any “cheesing” of levels. One great aspect of the level design is the use of these blocks as platforms when you end up traversing the level sideways. Sometimes multiple switches have to be activated and require them to be done in the right order to continue, which can slow your progress if you do the wrong ones first! I really enjoyed the puzzles, as they did really challenge me and test my brains ability to think in 3D!
However, puzzles aside there isnt really a lot else going on. The aforementioned story is diabollically bad, and if you had asked me what it was about straight after I finished the game I would not be able to tell you. It was clearly written to be a spiritual experience, dealing with the creation of humankind, but for me it failed on every level. The dialogue is just bizarre and boring, and as the game was originally in Spanish perhaps it has lost something in translation? Graphically its also not great, as it has a very basic pallette and design, and apart from the last level the surroundings are very dull and uninteresting.
Probably the biggest surprise for me though was the amount of levels available. Including the tutorial there are only five levels to complete before the credits roll. To be honest I was amazed at this, as I was just getting used to this world, and was ready to play more, even though I was still being bored by the story. To be fair there is a New Game + mode that unlocks upon completion, which lets you play the same levels but puts the orbs in tougher positions. However, once I realised that there was no new content I didn’t really feel an urge to continue and replay those levels, except for maybe collecting those final achievements!
Overall Etherborn contains some great and challenging puzzles, but is severely hampered by the story and it’s short length.