Developer: Seaven Studio
Publisher: Seaven Studio
When we first discovered Ethan: Meteor Hunter at Rezzed earlier this year, we were suitably intrigued by the game. A telekinetic mouse who uses his power to solve platform-based puzzles? It had our attention, and so with the game now finally out we were eager to see if Seaven Studio, a team of developers from France who rescued the IP when their old studio was closed, had managed to deliver the game they had worked so hard to deliver.
Before we discover if they have managed that, let’s talk about the setup. The plot is as basic as gets – a meteor hits Ethan’s home, and after being mocked by his neighbour he discovers that the glowing space rock has given him telekinetic abilities. And so begins Ethan’s quest to collect them all, and fight his neighbour occasionally, for some reason. It’s not anything huge or particularly deep, but I will tell you this – by the time I was done with the game, I had an unreal hatred for that neighbour, his mocking laugh, and everything he might stand for.
The control provide enough time for the player to fine tune their movements, ensuring that there is never a sense feeling powerless when approaching pure traversal sections. This comes paired up with Ethan’s telekinetic power which allows players to pause the action and move objects within a specific region of the game. These gameplay mechanics are explained in a simple yet affective tutorial sequence, and is used to great effect by providing various scenarios to overcome. One moment the player might have to build a bridge from some loose blocks, the next simply placing blocks in mid-air for Ethan to jump to a higher platform, while just around the corner might be something akin to a sliding puzzle. This ability may only be available in limited numbers, coming in the form of a power-up to grab, but this is balanced out by giving the player as much time as they need to commit to their solution, providing a fair challenge to even the most experienced gamers.
The thing is, the true tests of skill appear when the game decides to put all of these various mechanics together at once, forcing the player to worry about moving certain blocks into a specific position to activate a doorway, whilst ensuring Ethan manages to find his way safely over a pool of acid, or avoid death by rotating saw, or dodging cannon fire (the homing missile fire will really mess you up. Trust me.) Each one on their own might not seem too big a hurdle to jump, but Seaven Studio has done enough with their level design to take these relatively simple obstacles and really push the player without making it impossible to beat.
While the time-stopping puzzles are well realised, they aren’t perfect. There are moments I found fitting blocks into certain places with the analog sticks was occasionally a more time consuming experience that it should have been, and while the mouse controls allowed for the precision I needed it could prove annoying for those playing with only a gamepad at their disposal. Additionally, some puzzle spaces end up being quite large, but moving on too far stops players from returning during a time-stop, forcing the player to take puzzle pieces along with them. This would be fine, expect this isn’t explained to the player at any point. Sure, some might see it as a case of “learn by doing” but others might see it as a cheap way of adding game time – it’ll be down to your level of patience, I guess.
Many of the design choices I’ve mentioned so far are not particularly new, and some of you might feel I’m over exaggerating the difficulty, so allow me to get to the point – the checkpoint system in Ethan: Meteor Hunter is one of the most calculated and downright evil I’ve come across. The comparison to Dark Souls might seem like an exaggeration (although it’s not far off) but I feel there’s a better way to explain. You know those optional levels in the latest Rayman games that are absolutely heinous? Well imagine that from about the third level onwards and you’ll get the picture. The amount of times I found myself sending Ethan to his untimely demise within seconds of reaching a checkpoint was frustrating, but this is counterbalanced by the quick restart times. No black screens or waiting for more than a second – Ethan is ready to dive right back in almost instantly, adding a very addictive quality to the gameplay that, providing you have the patience, will have players trying again and again.
With the exception of the pogo stick jumping levels, which are just evil incarnate. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
In terms of its aesthetic design, I found Ethan: Meteor Hunter to be fairly hit-and-miss. The backdrops, while well realised, end up coming across as the same even when Ethan ventures across the three zones to the point it all seemed to blend together, and the character models for the titular hero and his nemesis neighbour are a little stiff and angular in appearance (although Ethan’s various death sequences are brutal and hilarious in their execution.) The soundtrack during each level does help underscore the frustrating challenges the player will face but is largely forgettable. Likewise, the sound effects for the most part lack the appropriate impact they could have had, but in fairness these criticisms are arguably irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. After all, it’s substance over style in the case of Ethan: Meteor Hunter as it is all about the puzzles (and there are games out there with worse overall presentation, that’s for sure.)
Longevity comes in the form of collectables (which are French cheeses, naturally) and time trial goals, ensuring that even the most skilled players will spend more than their fair share of time mastering the dastardly puzzles in the quest for the perfect speed run. While their inclusion is a good thing, I can’t help but feel that some sort of global (or even regional) online leaderboard would have provided casual gamers a reason to return to the game in the future, be it to beat a friend’s run or just to climb a few places. That said, with the game taking around seven or so hours to complete (perhaps longer if a particular puzzle proves to be a challenge) you could argue that you should get your money’s worth from this one from a single run.
At the end of the day, if you’re looking for a game that will push your problem solving skills, your reflexes, and your patience to the very limit, Seaven Studio’s telekinetic time-stopping platformer covers all the bases, and then puts a healthy dose of dastardliness on top. It may not have the memorable charm of other established franchises, but it makes up for this by being one of the most challenging games I’ve played this year.
One last thought - Although there has yet to be an official confirmation on it, I honestly think that when a Playstation Vita version pops up (the studio currently has dev kits) it could very well find an ideal home on the handheld.
- The telekinetic / time-stop puzzle mechanic is used to maximum effect.
- Its punishing natures leads to an addictive mentality thanks to the quick restarts.
- Collectables & Time Trials will give completists plenty to conquer…
- … but some sort of online leaderboard would have given more reason to stick around.
- Not the most memorable asthetic design.
- Using to the controller to precisely place blocks in specific places could frustrate some.
The Short Version:
It may not have the charm of other more established titles, but its calculated level design and gameplay mechanics make Ethan: Meteor Hunter a game to recommend. If it’s a challenging and downright brutal platforming experience that you’re after, you won’t do much better than this bastardly platform title.