By: Matthew Striplen
Ready for some indie game goodness? With a name like Ethan: Meteor Hunter, I was certainly skeptical, but what a pleasant surprise this game turned out to be! Seaven Studios brings us Ethan, a mouse, as he traverses treacherous territory in search of meteors with the mysterious powers to thwart his nemesis.
A platformer at its core, the controls are simple and intuitive. Only the analog sticks and four face buttons are used, each with a singular function. This simplicity benefits the game immensely, as overly complicated controls would only detract from the experience.
Only one element of the game takes getting used to. Ethan contains numerous puzzles that require precise placement of objects. While sensitivity is not an issue, due to an adjustable menu setting, simply getting the correct spot of said objects can be frustrating. An object will only lock into place if it is not overlapping anything else. While this may seem obvious, many puzzles will force the player into working in small spaces where overlapping cannot easily be perceived. An entire puzzle can be broken by having a single piece slightly out of alignment. While Ethan‘s physics are terrific, the addition of a guiding grid would be welcome.
Ethan: Meteor Hunter is nothing special when it comes to looks. Characters and environments look grainy, even for an indie game. The graphics are stuck in the awkward zone between cutting edge and retro styled pixelation. While the graphics are far from gorgeous, they detract little from the experience, since Ethan is heavily gameplay driven. That being said, I would have preferred them to either upgrade to modern quality graphics or fully embrace a retro look.
The soundtrack and ambient noise is minimal throughout. Neither voice acting nor text make an appearance, but the story is not what propels the game. The mice only make a few gibberish noises, which are pretty goofy. The sparse soundtrack accurately reflects the vast emptiness of the levels.
Ethan: Meteor Hunter puts a great spin on the old platforming genre. Easily the most interesting aspect of the game is the in-game pause function. By collecting pause symbols throughout the level, Ethan gains the power to stop time and move certain objects to help him accomplish his goal. These objects, which range from boxes and springs to electricity conductors, can only be placed within a dotted line that appears once the game has been paused.
Once paused, the player can position them anywhere within the lines that doesn’t overlap with something else. These workable areas are quickly pushed to the extreme by using overwhelmingly vast and minuscule spaces. Beware! Once the pause button is released, all laws of physics, which were previously suspended, will suddenly be applied, causing unstable structures to topple.
This pausing function actually transforms Ethan from a pure platformer into a puzzler-platforming hybrid. The game begins as a mostly pure platformer, but as you progress more complex puzzle elements are introduced and eventually combined with the platforming. Using the pause function in unusual locations, such as in midair, opens up an entirely new realm of possibilities. The developers did a terrific job fusing these two seemingly disjointed genres of gaming.
Another unusual departure from traditional platforming is how Ethan handles lives. Large meteor crystals populate the landscape of each level, usually appearing before or after a difficult puzzle. Instead of being forced to redo the entire level upon death, Ethan is warped back to the nearest meteor. By removing the confines of having finite lives, the game promotes exploration, experimentation and throwing caution to the wind. In other words, be prepared to die in many wonderful ways. The game even pokes fun at you by awarding a trophy for dying enough times. Don’t be fooled into thinking that having infinite lives will make the game easy, however, as Ethan is anything but.
The first few worlds do a fantastic job of orienting the player with the basic functions but quickly increases in difficulty. If merely completing these challenging puzzles isn’t enough for you, each level has a set of goals to meet, which consist of a time limit, pause usage and meteor collection. The game continues to add new and incredibly difficult functions throughout, which include puzzles based on electricity, fire, and spiked gears of death, just to name a few. It’s wonderfully refreshing to play a game so challenging that the reward of simply finishing a level is enough.
As far as length goes, you won’t be disappointed. Ethan features three large worlds with 15 levels apiece. Considering the high degree of difficulty, most players should get quite a few hours out of this. The added challenge of time limits, pause usage and meteor collection adds a good deal of replay value as well.
Ethan: Meteor Hunter is what indie games are all about. With its high level of difficulty and innovation, I found myself screaming, yelling, and jumping for joy in front of the screen. Ethan takes the old platforming genre and gives it a huge twist, transforming it into something much more. It’s definitely worth a try, just try not to break anything important when you die for the zillionth time.