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Etherborn (Switch) artwork

Etherborn (Switch) review

"You'll have a lot more fun with Etherborn once you recognize the gravity of the situation."

Down is up and up is down. It all comes down to perspective. Have you ever stood on your head and looked through a looking glass at an inverted world? I did that when I was a kid and my mom had her large, oval vanity mirror resting on the bedroom floor. It was a pretty cool moment, I thought, and I also think Etherborn is pretty cool. Sometimes.

The idea in Etherborn is that you are a humanoid. You look like jelly shaped into a man, with no bones but a heap of of internal organs. What you lack in a face and other discernible features, you make up for with... nothing. But that's okay. I've played as robots, rodents, plumbers and more. I don't really care what I'm controlling, as long as it moves the way it should and I get to explore interesting environments.

Etherborn (Switch) image

The environments you encounter here are indeed interesting on one level, but they're not a whole lot more detailed than the protagonist as a general rule and that works against them a bit. What makes them noteworthy at all is the way gravity applies to everything. If you run along the ground, you can take long and graceful leaps across gaps and you can ascend and descend stairs. If you come up to a wall and there's a slight slope at its base or at its highest portion, that enables you to start climbing as if you are still walking on a flat surface. Gravity doesn't get to interfere because that wall just became your floor. You're about as concerned with falling off that shifted plane as a fly is as it crawls along the contours of a disco ball. As long as you remember which way is up, you're going to do okay. Otherwise, you'll go hurtling to your doom.

Perhaps I've made Etherborn sound like the sort of experience that takes a lot of time to get used to, but it really doesn't. The camera shifts expertly so its perspective is almost always helpful unless you're just plain roaming in an area the developers didn't think you would have any reason to explore. It's also possible to pan a short distance in any direction, if you find you need to, but that step is generally unnecessary because the visual cues are on point. In some stages, I did stop to look around so I could get a better sense of where I was in relation to my environment, but then, I'm sometimes easily confused.

Most of my more persistent troubles came not from any struggles with inverted planes, but from the puzzle design. It relies quite heavily on orbs of light you must collect and distribute among switches in order to morph the environment so you can reach your destination. I'm the sort of guy who likes to keep moving from one puzzle to the next, but a lot of the stages consist of interlinked puzzles that aren't always solved even when you think they are. You drop an orb in a pedestal and it has the desired effect. For example, a ledge falls into place and bridges an otherwise impassible vat of acid. Then you come across a set of multiple pedestals, and it has to occur to you that maybe the one platform you made appear early in your adventures has become unnecessary and you can return to retrieve an orb you left resting in the adjoining pedestal.

Etherborn (Switch) image

I devoted somewhere over two hours clearing the game, and a lot of that time I spent lost around the midway point, figuring out the puzzle developers' habits. Once I got that down, I enjoyed mostly smooth sailing until the end. There are no enemies, so the only real danger is that you will fall into a pit or a lethal pool and have to resume from the last checkpoint. And since those checkpoints are placed generously and the environments are small (though sometimes, intricately built), backtracking is kept to a relatively painless minimum. There are only a few areas where precision jumps are necessary, so Etherborn should challenge players of all ages without confounding them due to atrophying or undeveloped dexterity.

A soothing soundtrack further minimizes frustration. It's basic, but it fits the action. Stringed instruments and piano merge nicely to produce music I could never hum, but which kept everything relaxed even when I was regularly falling to my death. I appreciated less the narrator, who seems to be doing a poor impersonation of Galadriel from Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. The story that plays out between the stages feels like it must be trying to inspire personal reflection on the nature of humanity and language, so I guess the somber intones are appropriate, but I had difficulty following along or caring.

Etherborn (Switch) image

When I completed the campaign, I unlocked an additional mode that offered the chance to play through with the orbs relocated, but by that point I was ready to spend my time elsewhere. The puzzles were effectively designed to cater to an initial run through the game, but there are too few visual rewards to properly justify the effort. Since there isn't much to see beyond the enormous tree players climb that serves as the level hub, I can't imagine myself ever feeling a strong desire to revisit that world.

Etherborn offers about a half-hour's worth of almost pure fun, mixed with varying degrees of enjoyment spread out across however much additional time it takes a person to play through the campaign from start to finish. The puzzles capably build around the central concept of shifting gravity, but beyond that, there's not much to engage players for more than a couple of hours or so. Do pick up the game if you've played a lot of platformers and want something a little different, but don't count on what you find leaving a lasting impression. That's more the domain of mirrors on bedroom floors.


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Staff review by Jason Venter (July 18, 2019)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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