I can safely say that Ebenezer and the Invisible World is my first time playing a Christmasvania. Developed by Orbit Studio and Play on Worlds, this adventure tries to combine the familiar framework of a Metroidvania with a fantastical sequel to A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It imagines the miserly codger Ebenezer Scrooge as an unlikely hero who has changed his ways and helps ghosts with their plights as part of his redemption. It’s an original premise to say the least. Unfortunately, the game’s execution falls short on nearly all fronts with unrefined combat, a convoluted plot, substandard cutscenes, and shoddy presentation.
Coal in the stocking
The trouble starts at the very beginning with a lack of setup. Without any recap of the original story or any explanation of the timeline, Ebenezer is accosted in his living room by a spirit named Eric Fellows. The ghost weaves a tale about a friend of his named Caspus Malthus, an industrialist who is going down a dark path despite him being visited by The Three Ghosts of Christmas. Caspus has a plan to destroy the workers in his factories by using his private guard and creating some strange energy source. It’s up to Ebenezer to help this stranger by gathering spectral allies who will assist him against enemy forces and acquiring objects that will remind Caspus of his better self.
Regrettably, this imaginative, what-if scenario is only tangentially related to Ebenezer. The better story, which the game actually hints at, would have involved him trying to make amends to the people he has spurned in the past and resisting who he was before his change of heart. A bit of charity doesn’t easily wash out a lifetime of misdeeds. As it stands, Ebenezer is a wise do-gooder from the very start and doesn’t get any character development as a result.
Meanwhile, the main plotline is very predictable due to the opening cutscene revealing more or less what is harmfully influencing Caspus. The NPCs Ebenezer meets are generally one-dimensional and unmemorable too. Nearly all of them drag him into crude side quests where he has to find some object and then give it to someone. The cutscenes don’t fare much better, with characters that aren’t animated well and basic gray text boxes plopped over the scene.
A mixed blessing
Fortunately, Ebenezer and the Invisible World is a serviceable enough Metroidvania to make you forget about the story on occasion. Apparently, Ebenezer is no longer the doddering curmudgeon from the classic tale and has learned how to jump twice his height and smack foes with his cane. Through the 10-hour adventure, he learns new ways to traverse the map and unlocks new spirit-based attacks using ghosts who join his side. This is in addition to other cane weapons he can find and a collection of heirlooms that he can equip for minor buffs. The variety of enemies is also strong, ranging from hovering lanterns and heavy guards with shields, to monstrosities that cast beams of light and ladylike wraiths that deal considerable damage with their screams.
That said, the combat and platforming lacks the same finesse and precision of other games in the genre, like Dead Cells and Blasphemous 2. The hand-drawn sprites look wonderful as still frames, but figuring out their hitboxes is difficult at times. Depending on the enemy, their attacks can be green, purple, or red, so it can be tough discerning what you need to dodge, especially when encountering bosses on the first go. The backdash dodge is also unwieldy because it automatically goes in the opposite direction you'r facing. It would have been much better and easier to have a dodge that can go left or right at your discretion.
Tis the season for regifting
At the same time, while bosses have a lot of health and throw out numerous projectiles, they’re a breeze because you can have an unlimited amount of healing items. So long as you’re diligent with destroying all of the respawning lights and destructible objects, you will earn enough currency to purchase as many turkeys and plum puddings as you want. (The fact that Ebenezer needs to find money in the first place is silly, but I digress.) On top of that, a spirit weapon called the Lion Cane that can be found roughly halfway through the game can shoot powerful projectiles, which enemies aren’t really designed to defend against. Along with the healing items, this makes every challenge, including the final area that is essentially a gauntlet of the game’s toughest foes, rather trivial.
Too many elements, from the mechanics to the presentation, are dated. The save system forces you to redo cutscenes over again if you happen to die. There’s no way to move the camera for a sneak peek above or below your position. Upgrades for health and spirit, as well as various heirlooms in the shop, require you to gather random item drops from enemies. The settings menu is remarkably barebones and doesn't even have the option for changing keybinds. Worst of all, the music is full of looping, lifeless tracks that snuff out any sense of Christmas cheer.
Ebenezer and the Invisible World is a run-of-the-mill Metroidvania with the wrong story and outdated design. Except for the beautiful background art and an interesting variety of enemies, the adventure is a short, stodgy, rudimentary affair with weakly executed ideas. On the Christmas table, it’s the dry and underbaked fruitcake that is still technically edible but is surrounded by far too many better options.
This review is based on a PC code on Steam provided by the publisher. It also releases on PS5, PS4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X|S, and Xbox One.
Ebenezer and the Invisible World
- Interesting premise
- Nice background art
- Good enemy variety
- Rudimentary Metroidvania
- Convoluted story
- Awkward backdash dodge
- Bosses are too easy due to healing items
- Dated gameplay and presentation
- Very boring music