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Etherborn – First Hands-on Preview

Etherborn is an upcoming gravity-defying puzzle game by Spanish indie developer Altered Matter. The game made a big enough splash at conventions that it was selected to take part in FoxNext Games, a new indie game development fund created by 20th Century Fox.

Since we were unable to make it to GDC this year, the folks over at Altered Matter were kind enough to give me access to an early build of the game, which contained about 45 minutes of content. Here’s some of my first impressions of Etherborn based on the current demo.

You play as a mute, translucent humanoid in a surreal world inspired by the dreamlike, nonsensical paintings popularized by artists like M. C. Escher.

There’s a disembodied voice that guides you and gives monologues about abstract, philosophical concepts, but the demo didn’t contain enough content for me to really explain what the overall story is about.

The main reason you’ll probably want to keep an eye on Etherborn are the puzzles, and the demo contained several levels that give you a good idea of what to expect from the final product.

The puzzles generally revolve around navigating vast, implausible levels trying to find spherical keys that must be brought to pads on the floor that unlock the next section of the level.

The levels will have you climbing up walls, ceilings, and just about every other surface as you try to figure out how to get to these keys.

You can generally see where you need to go in the foreground and background of each level, it’s just a matter of figuring out what path to take and how to use the world’s ever-changing physics and gravity to get there.

As the floors and ceilings merge together and up becomes down, the physics of the world change. This plays a big part in figuring out how to navigate the environment, as sometimes you’ll need to jump to a place in the background.

It can be a bit disorientating at first, but once you’ve wrapped your head around the illogical levels in front of you, the world’s gravity and physics become predictable. Or, as predictable as you can get in a world where you might find yourself walking sideways on a pillar suspended over an endless void at any given moment.

I must admit that I’m an idiot, so I did get stumped on the second level of the demo for a bit. Eventually everything clicked and I realized that I was overthinking the path I had to take to reach a key. Given the short length of the demo, I can’t say how easy or hard the puzzles will be in the full game.

I can say that the level design so far is pretty clever and the environments looks great. If you like surreal landscapes, then Etherborn will provide you with some pretty impressive desktop wallpapers.

One thing to be aware of is that Etherborn really requires a controller to play. The bizarre nature of the levels and the camera angle makes navigating with a keyboard awkward. It’s certainly doable, but I personally think the game just feels really off when moving with WASD as opposed to a controller’s analog stick.

If you have any interest in puzzle games with beautiful, implausible architecture, then you should keep an eye out for Etherborn. The game is set to release sometime later this year for Windows PC (via Steam), PS4, Switch, and Xbox One.

Frank Streva

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Niche Gamer’s resident indie expert. Digs through the Steam new releases so you don’t have to. Massive fan of miniature and board games as well.