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Ether Vapor Remaster (PC) artwork

Ether Vapor Remaster (PC) review

"Ether vertical or horizontal. Sometimes both."

Ether Vapor starts off with a lone ship cutting through a wispy cloud formation, way above what seems to be an endless stretch of pure blue ocean. A few expository enemy ships start to trickle down from the top of the screen, but you know what to do, and you blast them from the skies. Thatíll teach them to exist. Youíll find, with some experimentation, that thereís three distinct bullet formations you can switch between at any time; an obligatory forward stream designed to plough everything into targets dumb enough to sit right in front of you, and an equally obligatory angled fire that coats most of the screen in bullets. Much like genre architects, R-Type, both these modes of fire have an overcharge function which you can power up by holding down the button for a second. The third option gives you limited access to your nose cannon, but releases flurries of homing missiles which either chase enemies around the screen, or lock on to incoming threats currently outside your range, chilling with impure intentions in the background.

The rest of the stage follows suit. Thereís plenty of targets with enemy fighters rolling on screen to launch bevies of rockets which curve about the sky looking for you. Your first real test comes when a craft three times your size ascends through the clouds, filling the screen with pulsing pink plasma bullets, but itís no lasting match for your trifecta of offence, and should go down with a few seconds of pummeling. Youíll settle into the routine of pretty standard vertical shooting, before your perspective is momentarily flipped by an unrelenting maelstrom of homing missiles. Here, autopilot kicks in while you control a reticle tied into your homing attacks in an effort to blow them out of the sky before they take you down. Except they wonít, even if you do nothing. Shooting down missiles is a bonus stage existing merely for the consumption of delicious bonus points. Soon, this is over, and the end of level boss arrives, complete with dangerous WARNING, er, warnings. Electricity crackles around the screen and a massive grey slab of a ship warps in from nowhere. It pelts you with starbursting mortar attacks, columns of machine gun fire and a huge laser cannon that sweeps across the screen. Itíll go down quick. Scene one should be seen off in about three minutes. At this point, youíll likely consider Ether Vapor closer to Ether Vapid. A decent looking shooter without much challenge to it; a light distraction at best.

With your initial victory in hand, your ship banks hard and breaks through the clouds. Now skimming across the ocean itself, it presents the first of many surprises; it abandons its vertical perspective and switches to horizontal. Cool, thinks you, thatíll mix things up a bit, as you scythe down more cannon fodder near effortlessly. Just because theyíre viewed from the side rather than overhead doesnít make the same smattering of fighters any harder to explode, so you get on with that. I mean, sure, the screenís a bit busier now and thereís less room to safely maneuver in, but it shouldnít be a problem. You know what youíre doing.

Soon a Gundam-looking mech swoops in. It looks like a big deal, complete with itís own HP bar and intimidating name. LIBELLULIUM, though, is toothless. His attacks are flashy, but massively telegraphed and easy to avoid. Damage him enough and heíll make a break for it, leaving you again with his legions of canon fodder. Theyíve got a few new tricks, like sturdy weapons platforms that spit out unforgiving waves of tracer fire, but you can find little bubbles of safety without much issue, and everything goes down in flames. LIBELLULIUM even comes back near the end like a buffoon; the biggest threat he possesses is that, when you finally kill him, he explodes into rubble you need to avoid. Then WARNING flashes across the screen once more.

ARCHELON, at least, looks the part; a hulking mech made from impenetrable-looking armour and a cannon arm that dwarfs your ship some four times over. Heíll fire the cannon, eventually, after releasing a few waves of plasma orbs and homing missiles you should slip past with no issue. When the cannon is fired, itís anticlimactic. It slips in behind you, and you only have the entire bottom third of the screen as a safe haven. You scoff. It seems like a scoff worthy moment.

Then he drops into the background where he canít be directly targeted. Then, through a torrent of bullets and missiles flung in your direction, the cannon emits a solid beam of laser, which chases you around the screen.

Itís a neat perception trick, but the laser is cumbersome and you should avoid it pretty easily. You abuse your homing shots to pelt him from afar, and use the limited screen space you have left to slip past missiles and plasma alike. This attack wonít last long, though; soon, youíll inflict enough damage to explode the giant cannon. ARCHELON responds to this by aiming a huge kung-fu kick at you face, zooming towards the screen at unexpected speeds.

You probably hadnít seen that coming. Missing its biggest gun and with a lot of its chunky armour worn away, ARCHELON swaps out its tactics, grows a drill from the top of his head, and charges around the screen trying to pierce you, all the while launching endless waves of serpentine lasers that zoom in on you from the back of the screen, forcing you to never stop moving. Which isnít made overly easy by the insane mech, spinning and swooping about, trying to headbutt you to death. At least at this point, you know the fight is nearly at an end. Survive this final gambit, and ARCHELON soon falls. He belongs to the ocean now.

Scene Three sees you fly into a city, soaring above intertwining highways and uniform grey buildings. But itís fooled you; youíve not really entered a city; youíve wandered directly into Hell.

It soon becomes obvious that Ether Vapor isnít an overly easy game; itís just fair. It wanted to give you a change to get used to the different bullet patterns; it wanted to advertise its myriad perspective shifts ahead of time. But thatís all gone now. You wonít know at first, because the same easily destroyed enemy fighters drizzle on screen as the view resets to vertical once more. They never go away, and their threat is magnified once new ships arrive, cutting up large sections of the screen in fiery red laser, giving you little room to dodge incoming fire or kamikaze pilots. They build impromptu obstacle courses, forcing you bank hard around them with scant room to spare. Smaller fighters are replaced by hulking warcrafts, belching out fans of rockets or streams of bullets. The arrival of the boss is almost a relief; then he slips behind you, engages the same laser beam youíve been dodging all level and slides around the screen. Thereís nowhere to hide, and the only way to stay alive is timing your path through the laser blockade with the enemy craftís barrel rolls, which place the lasers in the background for a scant half second. Win that fight and, turns out, thatís just a warm up. Another massive craft using similar tactics shows up directly afterwards, only this one has helper satellites that cut off EVEN MORE of the screen in unforgiving lasers which then explode in an orgy of bullets, like soulless bastards.

Scene Four has you darting through a cavern scored through the middle of a series of cliffs. Youíre not that far in before LIBELLULIUM makes his unwelcome return, but at least you know how to take him down. Except he knows you know all the safe places to hide, so summons legions of new craft to rise from the valleyís floor to chase you out of them. Youíre then flanked by a massive carrier you need to make numerous sweeps across, destroying its armaments one by one before forcing it into the ground. Think thatís the end? You poor naive fool. You then dive into a network of caves where you fight a warehouse-sized spider bot. MEGARACHNE has limitless ways to crush you into paste across four different forms. One of which places the camera directly behind you and asks you to navigate through a series of laser webs.

Ether Vapor lets you get your bearings and then gets right to work in kicking your arse. Thereís another three stages left after you see MEGARACHNE off, but, odds you, you wonít see them for a while. You start the game with a modest shield allowance and limited credits, but the game will reward you for getting a little bit further each session by slowly dialing these up. That means, play enough, and, eventually, youíll have a mountain of continues to fall back on so you can effectively grind your way to completion. But you have to put the time in to get there; you have to work at getting better. Eventually, youíll figure out which weapon set ups work best with which waves, youíll figure out the safest paths through plots of bullets and missiles. Your ship will get hardier, your fallback options more expansive and you will be a better pilot. Youíll still get your arse kicked by Scene Three though. Those bloody laser walls will be the death of you.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (May 31, 2020)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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