As I write this review, I’m torn. After playing Etherborn for preview, I was left awestruck. Here were three levels that left me completely blown away, hungry for more. My excitement grew as I started playing through the full version, eager to see more of the insanely clever puzzles that I’d previously tried. Then, as I finished the fifth level, the credits rolled.
Was that it? Is it done? No… surely it can’t be over.
The toughest question to answer is, was I sad simply because I wanted more? Or was I feeling disappointed because there should have been more in the first place? It’s really hard to decide.
Before we get too far down that particular rabbit hole, I want to state that I like Etherborn. It’s a platform puzzler that really messes with your sense of direction and can have you scratching your head for hours as you try to figure out what you missed on each puzzle.
If I tried to explain what it’s actually about, I honestly couldn’t tell you. You play as the ‘Voiceless Body’, just born into creation, and spend the entire game searching for the ‘Bodiless Voice’ that guides you. There’s a metaphor in there for discovering your own purpose in life, but it got a little lost after hours of intense puzzling. I’m sure it’s lovely and all, but the game really is about the puzzles, and what puzzles they are!
I don’t know who designed these levels, but they must be on a different planet and have a brain the size of a small mountain because damn, they are some clever-ass puzzles!
The goal of each level is to make your way to a strange glowing ball with patterns inside it, but getting there is no easy task. Throughout each level, you need to collect orbs of light that are then placed into slots and unlock more of the level to explore. It sounds pretty simple, but you’re not just dealing with a simple platforming venture. Etherborn is all about perspective and you’ll sometimes need to walk up walls or on the ceiling to get to where you need to be. Here’s where your senses get twisted.
Sloping surfaces adjust your gravity and let you perform some geometric gymnastics where thinking outside of the box is key. Sometimes, you will see an orb on a wall in the distance and the solution involves walking up and down several walls to get you into a position where you can fall sideways into the orb, the wall on which it was placed now becoming your ground. Confused? Good. It means you’re on the journey that’s slowly adjusting you to Etherborn’s way of thinking.
There were moments where I finished a level and actually gave a standing ovation. The solutions are so intelligently designed with absolute logic in mind. I felt like I was becoming more intelligent just by playing. Etherborn feels like the ultimate brain trainer that teaches you to pay more attention to your surroundings and come up with logical solutions. There were moments where I would genuinely spend one to two hours stuck on a puzzle, only to have a ‘eureka’ moment and solve the entire thing. It felt liberating.
Etherborn is also dripping with atmosphere. A great soundtrack accompanies you as you solve puzzles giving a grandiose feel to everything. I got lost in the music, despite not really understanding what was going on. I just knew it was meant to be something big.
Now, take all the excitement, the build up through each of the levels, the swelling music and then imagine it ending all of a sudden.
I kind of felt a little lost afterwards. I’d finished the fifth level and the credits rolled in as a wave of disappointment washed over me. Not only did I want it to continue, but I was none the wiser as to what was actually going on in the game’s ethereal story. There was a lot of build up with the dialogue that talked about finding your purpose and hearing voices, but you get no real conclusion or understanding as to what it all means.
I get that these levels are probably quite hard to make, considering how intricate they are, but they’re simply too little to fully explore the gameplay ideas and its potential. When you reach the end, you’re offered a New Game Plus mode which remixes the five original levels, but this annoyed me even further, because it all started to feel a little lazy at this point. The game tells you that items are placed in different places, requiring new solutions to be found, so you can imagine the look on my face when I walked through a bush and accidentally found an orb. Logic seems to go out the window with NG+ simply hiding orbs out of sight in places you’d never think to go. One level took an orb that was previously on top of a bridge and placed it underneath, which was actually much more accessible.