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Etherborn Is More Than A Simple Brain Teaser




In many ways, Etherborn feels like a project that is out of place in 2018. From top to bottom, the title oozes the quintessential indie platforming charm that came a dime-a-dozen in 2012, when controversial games such as Fez dominated the non-AAA scene. However, oddly enough, recent years have seen these types of platformers fall off in favour of roguelikes and RPGs in the industry. Contemporary gaming is crying out for the sort of intelligent platforming and mechanics-first design of that early-2010’s zeitgeist, especially as the current market is becoming too flooded with lukewarm releases and copycat indies. Despite Etherborn’s nostalgia-inducing aestheticism, buried underneath is a game that has endearing mechanics, tight controls, and the potential to rejuvenate some of that lost consumer interest in platformers.

In OnlySP’s time with an alpha build, Etherborn impressed on all levels. Etherborn, though, is not a simple platformer, but a new addition to the gravity-puzzle genre.. Ever since Valve perfected gravity puzzles with Portal, developers have been tentative to explore this genre, yet Altered Matter has managed to build upon Valve’s design philosophy and bring it into third-person play. Players must solve a variety of three-dimensional puzzles that require some brain-twisting levels of thinking to manipulate the game’s responsive and sensible gravity-manipulation system. Traversal of the levels, which centre around atmospheres based off of distinctive biomes, is built around Etherborn’s manipulation of gravity, with players anchoring to different surfaces on the Rubik’s Cube-esque levels. Players experience gravity perpendicular to the surface they are standing on, which sounds about as perilous and brain cell-catalysing as it sounds.

In terms of narrative potential, the alpha is light on story details, but, thematically, Etherborn deals with metaphysical questions regarding humanity and the universe through the game’s physics-defining locales. The story does threaten to fall into indie game cliché, yet the major appeal lies is the mechanics, not the threadbare narrative.

Whilst the framework of Etherborn threatens to sway into austerity, many players will be impressed by how the title balances clever and unique level design with such scant gameplay elements. Essentially, players must make decisions on which plane of the level they wish to interact with. Walls with curves allow players to change perspectives, shifting the gravity onto the same plane that the player is on. Dropping off non-curved walls means players will fall, either onto a different plane or to their demise. At its foundation, Etherborn is about making decisions on when to use curved and 90° corners. By transcribing this mechanic to varied worlds, the game, at least in the alpha, remains engaging. The alpha offers a look at five levels—named Birth, Overworld, The Yellow Infinite, Poisonous Desert, Cubes, and Final—with each offering different questions and interpretations of Etherborn’s toolkit. Certain levels, namely Poisonous Desert, act as a compact primer for the game’s take on gravitational manipulation, whereas other stages rely more upon classical platforming.

Put bluntly, Etherborn’s artistic direction is stellar. The washed-out colour palette, reinforced by the minimalist design of the levels, gives the project an understated appeal, which can be read as either sophisticated or simplistic. In fact, the game often walks the line between “simple enough” and “too simple.” The opening minutes, taking place in a drowned vista with tree roots littered under the water, are a nice introduction to both the artistic and mechanical design elements; Etherborn, from the character’s design to the levels themselves, is skeletal.

The opening hub, taking the form of a vast tree, also serves as the alpha’s (and assumedly the full game’s) overworld, with each branch leading to a different level. Also incorporated is a touch of Norse symbolism, too, via this Yggdrasil-inspired design, which is a nice touch.

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The most underreported aspect of Etherborn is the soundtrack, which varies from the hubworld’s calm A Moon Shaped Pool-esque ambience to more situational, varied tracks that suit the theme of the level. For example, the music for Poisonous Desert could have been ripped straight from the desert world of Super Mario Odyssey, which is a testament to the skills of the project’s composer Gabriel Garrido. Sound design, particularly in indie titles, is essential to the overall appeal, so Etherborn’s carefully curated soundtrack is a welcome addition to the title’s consistent style.

The project, which has just under two weeks to go on Fig, sits at USD$23,613 out of Altered Matter’s goal of $30,000 at the time of writing. As insinuated earlier, platformers are becoming a harder sell in the indie game market compared to other genres. Furthermore, even industry greats such as Swery struggled to achieve funding through crowdfunding, alongside promising titles such as Dolmen, suggesting it is not the holy grail that it was five or six years ago, and Etherborn is another title that has worked hard—and will have to continue working hard—to achieve the funding it requires. The major question about Etherborn’s credentials is not whether it is a good game or not, but whether the project’s audience sees it as an early 2010s renaissance or a title that merely missed the platforming boat.

E3 2019

Biomutant is Vibrant, Unique, and a Hell of a Lot of Fun




THQ Nordic had a bevy of games available to play on the show floor at this year’s E3. While some attendees eagerly lined up to play Darksiders Genesis (as our own Michael Cripe did), others sought to finally get their hands on Experiment 101’s highly unique Biomutant for a hands-on, 30-minute demo. Thankfully, Biomutant’s E3 demo is more than enough proof that the will end up being something truly special.

After selecting their preferred language, players were given the option to recode their mutant’s DNA, serving as Biomutant’s version of a character customizer. The customization options were satisfying. A circle graph appears on the screen with five key skills the player must find their preferred balance between: strength, agility, intellect, charisma, and vitality. A sixth skill, luck, was also present, but it was not one that the player could influence from the circle graph. This graph not only influences the player’s mutant’s skills but it also directly changes the mutant’s appearance.

Other customization options included determining the mutant’s fur length and primary and secondary colors. Once these options were set, the demo thrusts the player into a mission that begins with riding a hot air balloon  while the narrator speaks of the excitement of an adventure. Enemies begin firing to bring down the hot air balloon and the player is dropped into the action.


The world of Biomutant immediately pops, as the colors were sharp and invoked thoughts of Ratchet &Clank with a slightly more comic-book style. The visuals reflected the conditions of the area, too, with vibrant reds representing intense heat being a memorable example. The first thing that stood out about this sequence was how great the combat felt. Similarly to Insomniac’s Spider-Man and Rocksteady’s Arkham series, sliding through an enemy’s legs while kicking, punching, and shooting felt tight and familiar. In some instances, the game slowed down when a knockout blow was dealt, which was a nice cinematic touch.

Progressing forward saw the player in an area with additional enemies with a larger, more intimidating foe acting as the main objective. This section introduced the Super Wushu attack, which varies depending on the equipped weapon. The most rewarding of these attacks was with the Klonk Fist which was obtained later in the demo. The Klonk Fist offered huge gauntlets that could pummel multiple enemies by mashing the action button.

The key to unlocking the Super Wushu attack involves stringing together combos which felt fairly easy to do. I do not recall ever losing my combo to an enemy attack, as I obtained the special attack fairly often. The combat allowed for those who wished to mash the melee or firing button but also rewards the players who are more tactical in their combos while mixing in shooting with melee attacks.


With the tutorial for the demo out the way, the game continues by having the player go to a different part of the planet. This new area showcased the vibrant greens and life that contrasted the overheated reds from the previous area. After some platforming, the demo descends the player down into the world where Gizmo the Greasemonkey resides.

Biomutant NPC dialogue is spoken by the narrator from the beginning of the demo while the player’s character makes vague sounds during the conversation. This exchange felt a bit underwhelming for the action-RPG as options did not hold any consequences for how the next section plays out and can be skipped without missing out on much of the story or mission objective.

After descending down and exiting an elevator shaft, the player enters a dark, oil-spilt area. The color palette here reflected the same pop to its visuals as the other sections. A mech suit, which was required to clean up the oil, controlled fine, though combat definitely felt better out of the mech suit than in it.

A final enemy awaited which served as the boss fight for the mission. This fight contained three phases with the enemy adding a new attack method from in the second. The third phase, however, took place inside the creature. After taking him down from the inside, the planet’s Tree of Life becomes more alive as indicating a reversal of destitute for the planet.

The demo confirmed the anticipation OnlySP had for Biomutant. The combat felt great and the visuals really popped. THQ Nordic and Experiment 101 may something special on their hands if the rest of the game plays as the demo did.

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