Platforms: PlayStation 3/PC Developer/Publisher: Seaven Studios Genre: Puzzle-Platformer Platform Played: PC
Puzzle-platformers are a dime a dozen these days, there are an array of quality titles to be found on Steam through various independent developers, and an abundance of challenging titles through online console stores. Not to mention some recent high budget platformer releases and the many that stand on our horizon. Needless to say the genre is a hotly contested battle to be the very best, but it is those titles that try to provide something different from the norm that stand out from the crowd.
Ethan: Meteor Hunter is one of those titles. It tries to create a true balance between puzzle mechanics and fast paced platforming. Although it doesn’t succeed every time, when it does conquer its goal it can become one of the most challenging platformers in recent times.
Ethan doesn’t try to throw in a half-baked narrative like some other titles in the genre. Instead we are introduced to Ethan as he is getting hit by a meteorite which gives him his power to interact with the environment, used during the 48 levels scattered throughout 3 separate locations. Ethan doesn’t try to tell a story, it tries to focus on gameplay and perfecting its unique gameplay mechanics.
The main feature that will clearly be Ethan’s main selling point is the Pause feature. When Ethan is hit with meteor fragments he is able to Pause time and alter the environment around him. These puzzles involve the game completely stopping, while the player is able to move blocks, pieces of wood and trampolines in order to manoeuvre through the obstructions ahead.
These are a solid change from the fast-paced platforming and can be quite challenging. Though most of the later puzzles require some thought, this difficulty is mainly due to the Pause feature itself rather than difficult puzzles. Trying to move blocks into tight areas can be more time consuming than it should be, as the blocks don’t seem to lock in place all that often. I continuously found myself trying to fit blocks into tight spaces, only to find the imprecise controls would fight against my goal. It takes much longer to solve these problems than it should, which makes me wonder if giving players a grid-based system to lock these blocks into place would have been a better fit for the mechanic.
Aside from the Pause feature, Ethan provides some very challenging platforming in its own right. Gratefully the checkpoint system is generous, allowing you to take on each level in sections as you hope to finally make it to the finish line. However don’t expect a walk in the park, making your way from the start to the end of a level could see you die hundreds of times; which made me appreciate the checkpoint system. In similar style to the Trials series or Stealth Inc., when Ethan dies he will get sent back to his last checkpoint instantly allowing you to constantly fail without having to deal with annoying load times.
Ethan will also have to conquer a handful of boss encounters throughout the experience, which will test the ability of all players. Although you have a checkpoint before the boss encounter, defeating the boss itself will force you to put on a flawless performance – as one hit will see you restart the entire battle. These battles scream old school gaming, as you must memorise patterns and showcase your best abilities to survive these encounters. The battles always seemed fair, since when you die more than likely it was due to player error. Making the satisfaction of victory that much sweeter.
I found Ethan‘s gameplay reminded me of Twisted Pixel’s ‘Splosion Man, which is one of my favourite and most challenging platformers I have ever experienced. As I made this comparison I also found myself realising the difference between both titles, which simply is the lack of charm. Ethan lacks personality, though there is no story Ethan’s lack of charm comes from bland character design. These issues can also be said about the environments and music featured in the game.
During the 3 worlds experienced throughout Ethan, each looked very similar to the last. They all seemed to have similar layouts, similar dangers, and most disappointingly, similar art design. Ethan‘s environments lack visual flare as they all seem to possess a bland and ugly colour palette. These issues are also found within the game’s musical department, which consistently sounded like I was enjoying an elevator ride. Though these issues don’t affect the platforming elements throughout each level, it made the experience less memorable due to its lack of charm and vibrant colour.
Ethan also lacks an online leaderboard system, but there is plenty of replay value for hardcore enthusiasts looking to 100% their experience. Each stage has certain requirements to 100% a level, these include collecting each hidden meteor fragments, beating the stage in a timely fashion and using the least amount of Pause icons when clearing puzzles; some levels even include hidden Cheese which require great skill to collect. These goals are not for the casual player, as most of my attempts to beat these times were way off the standard required. Though these goals seem a little outlandish, once players get a feel for the levels in question they could incentive much replayability.
Seaven Studios has developed an admirable addition to the puzzle-platformer genre with Ethan: Meteor Hunter, it will test the skills and frustrations of any hardcore gamer; like a good platformer should. Though it lacks the personality and charm to truly provide a memorable experience, the fast-paced challenging gameplay coupled with Trials-style respawn system will find many players addicted.
The puzzle -platformer is a crowded genre, and although Ethan‘s premise had potential to stand alongside some of the best of the best; it ultimately fell short.
+ Instantaneous respawns
+ Challenging old school boss fights
+ Fast paced platforming
– Pause feature is imprecise
– Bland and boring levels
– Lacks charm/personality