Endless Cylinder feels like a game ripped out of the trippy days of 80s and early 90s video game development, when Pac-Man was going on pill-popping, ghost-eating trips, when an Italian plumber fighting giant apes and angry turtles could define the next 35 years of a video games company, when someone could come up with whatever the hell Q*bert is and make an indelible mark on video game history.
Q*bert is actually one of the first things you might think of when seeing the weirdly cute Trebhum creatures of this strange alien world. Small and rotund with little legs and a short trunk, they’re one oddly leathery skin away from getting sued by Q*bert. The Trebhum have bigger things to worry about, much bigger. The Eternal Cylinder.
Freshly hatched from its egg, you gain control of your first Trebhum literally meters away from being crushed by the slow-rolling cylinder that is as tall as a skyscraper and as wide as can possibly be imagined. A rapid waddle down the small trail the game’s opening gives you leads to learning how to curl up into a ball and roll with added speed.
In fairness, the Eternal Cylinder isn’t terribly fast, but has a Thanos-like inevitability to it. It will slowly roll forward crushing and flattening everything in its wake like a rolling pin spreading out a ball of pizza dough. A tiny Trebhum has no other option but to outrun it; you certainly can’t stop the Cylinder… or can you? Well… I don’t know, but you can survive and thrive with care.
Coming across the body of an ancient and much larger adult Trebhum, you absorb some of his memories and take on some of the legacy of the species and burden of its survival. His wisdom passed down to you, you’re hurried along to an ancient tower ahead of you, a tower with a glowing entryway for a Trebhum to pass through, but large and strong enough to stall the Cylinder for a short time.
The Trebhum, it’s quickly made clear, are a race of shapeshifters, able to absorb resources from the flora and fauna they encounter on this world, and either consume it for food and water, or use it to transform and mutate themselves.
It’s a truly fascinating quirk to the game that quickly becomes essential to how you play. Eat the orbs dropped by giant grasshopper-like creates and your Trebhum gains legs to jump higher. Eat a fuzzy plant, and your Trebhum gains a fuzzy fur to make them resistant to colder temperatures. Eat a spiked grass seed and the Trebhum will grow a little grassy mohawk that attracts flies. Eat mushrooms and you… well, actually that just sates your hunger. Learning what does what will be key for your further success – mutations that sprout a third resource-seeing-eye are highly desirable, ones that convert anything your Trebhum is holding into water after a few moments, less so.
Thankfully, as you try to juggle the growing possibilities that the Trebhum’s mutations offer you, you don’t have just a single Trebhum with which to adventure, but can encounter others and gather a small tribe to follow you. Some you’ll just find chilling out, while others will have certain demands of you to bring them certain resources or sparkly crystal dust that can be used to boost your Trebhum attributes.
You can switch between them at any time, and each can carry up to three consumables. It’s cute the way that they waddle along behind your chosen leader and will join in when you use your trunk to squirt water like an elephant, but ultimately they only really follow you, and you have to take care of them a little bit.
I was too slow, on one occasion, getting to the next tower, and while I reached safety, as I turned around, I witnessed one of my three followers squished – pro tip: don’t give any Trebhum you find a custom name. There’s also hostile enemies out there, both the “natural” predators of this world, like weird downward-facing mouth balls will leap toward you, towering ball riders will roll toward you and then spurt acid from their ball, flying insects will come and try to pancake you. Avoiding them isn’t too difficult, but you need to be on your guard and pay attention for the musical cues. Then there’s also the worshipers of the great Cylinder who hate the Trebhum and their stubborn independence, and who seem otherworldly to this already otherly world, nightmarish combinations of man and machine intent on stealing your carefully curated mutations.
Your journey will see you discover the remains of Trebhum civilisation. Shrines that reveal their secrets only to those Trebhum you can pass their tests. For one it was as simple as gathering a trio of Trebhum to open the front door, others might require you to acquire a certain mutation (which will be within the puzzle area) and use this to perform a certain action, like become a cube to slot into a square hole and open a door.
Despite that ominous game opening, you’re actually afforded a large amount of freedom to explore at your own pace. Passing through a tower halts the Eternal Cylinder for a while until you venture two feet ahead and pass through an energy barrier, at which point the tower breaks and the Cylinder is released to flatten all that exists before it once more.
A fascinating journey into the surreal, Eternal Cylinder is quite possibly unlike any other game that’s being made right now. Full of surrealist alien designs and a fight for survival where the only hope is really to run away, it’s a truly special game that I’m eager to experience more of.