Etherborn review - Find your center of gravity

Altered Matter's puzzle-platformer looks to shift the genre, our review.

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Etherborn centers around a nameless, voiceless character shrouded in mystery. A disembodied voice calls to you, offering clues and tidbits of information to not only your past, but the world around you. Developed and published by Altered Matter, Etherborn is a puzzler that utilizes gravity and physics to create unique platforming environments. You must navigate these lands in order to reach the disembodied voice and learn the truth about your identity. 

The game of life

From the very beginning, the story of Etherborn is wrapped in mystery and wonder. The character you play as doesn’t speak, and has no physical or personality characteristics. It’s unclear what this glowing figure’s purpose is, but a distant voice provides some insight. As you progress through the story, this voice makes cryptic comments and references to creation, the universe, and the early days of man. At first, this feels like some narrative mumbo jumbo, but it’s eventually tied into your own story. 

The story being told throughout Etherborn revolves heavily around themes of humanity and identity. There is a countless number of uncontrollable variables and shortcomings in the journey of life. Etherborn demonstrates that through this adversity, we can still find our own voice. The ideas of finding your own way and thinking outside of the box work brilliantly to facilitate some innovative gameplay.

Twisted system

The most impressive aspect of Etherborn is its puzzles. Gravity is a central theme in everything you do in this odd world. Exploring the map and completing challenges require you to cleverly traverse the different platforms to shift the gravitational pull in your favor. I was worried that this feature would grow stale, but Etherborn manages to create a fresh variety of puzzles throughout its different sections while staying true to its gravity mechanic.

Most puzzles require players to collect and place different orbs to open pathways and move forward. These orbs are gathered by manipulating the gravitational pull and shifting platforms. As you walk over a curved surface/ramp, the camera and level will reorient itself to accommodate your movements, making new areas accessible. 

On top of the already well designed levels, Etherborn has an “added challenge” mode. In this mode, the aforementioned orbs may be in different, more difficult to reach locations. This gives an extra layer of challenge while adding a replayability factor to a relatively short game.

The gravity mechanic in Etherborn is great, but it wouldn’t work nearly as well if it weren’t for the excellent camera work being done. The camera is one of the single most important components to any 3D platformer. Poor camera placement and controls can ruin the experience and frustrate players. In Etherborn, the camera is designed so well that you don’t lose your sense of direction or depth, even when the world around you is shifting around like Inception.

A distorted world

Etherborn is divided into five sections, each with its own unique environment and theme. Some sections are more earthlike, with grassy plains and rocky platforms, while others sport a more futuristic setting. These different environments play into the level designs and puzzles that players will face. For example, the futuristic level featured walls, floors, and ledges that would disappear and reappear depending on your orientation to them. It’s ideas like this that keep Etherborn from feeling played out after the first few puzzles. 

Not only do the different environments serve for different gameplay opportunities, but they also help give the game some visual appeal. With your character being a literal blank slate, it’s important that the surrounding world has some life to it so that things don’t feel dull. The sections in Etherborn come together to create a serene aesthetic that pairs well with the mysterious story.

Conclusion

Overall, Etherborn is a short and sweet puzzle platformer that centers around ideas of identity and purpose. The story has something to say about human existence, and what it means to be a person. Not only does the narrative provide some food for thought, but it works to drive the gameplay. The platforming and puzzle solving is exceptional thanks to the neat gravity mechanic and the well executed camerawork. Etherborn is a unique puzzling experience that brings something special to the genre.


This review is based on a digital PS4 code provided by the publisher. Etherborn is available for PC, PS4, XB1, and Switch for $16.99.

Donovan is a young journalist from Maryland, who likes to game. His oldest gaming memory is playing Pajama Sam on his mom's desktop during weekends. Pokémon Emerald, Halo 2, and the original Star Wars Battlefront 2 were some of the most influential titles in awakening his love for video games. Donovan is currently studying broadcast journalism at Bowie State University with hopes to join the Shacknews team full time after graduation. He is a huge Star Wars nerd and film fanatic that will talk with you about movies and games all day. You can follow him on twitter @Donimals_

Review for
Etherborn
8
Pros
  • Creative use of gravity mechanic
  • Beautifully designed world
Cons
  • Inconsistency with difficulties
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