At its core, Altered Matter's Etherborn is a puzzle-platformer where the central objective is simple: Reach the end of each stage by activating various switches and avoiding dangerous obstacles along the way. It's not quite that simple, of course, and that's due to Etherborn's other key mechanic: her ability to frequently reverse gravity.
The levels in Etherborn
Each of the game's levels is essentially a large 3D object floating in space or the ether. All four sides can be accessed during gameplay. While the laws of gravity apply to you wherever you stand, your character can walk along a curved surface—usually a ramp that goes up or down 90 degrees—at any time, reversing gravity with it. Suddenly you find yourself standing sideways or even running along the underside of where you started. In Etherborn, you can only shift gravity on certain curved sections.
The first few levels are very complex. Once you finally understand how everything works, it feels very satisfying to walk up the sides of the walls to the ceiling. It can be a little confusing at times. It's a clever idea, and your first thought after about the first hour or so will be, "I really like this." Etherborn's level design looks stunning.
Etherborn as a work of art
Etherborn is undeniably a work of art. Its creators have explained in the past how they were influenced by Russian painters such as Malevich and Rozanova, Brualism architecture and the work of Spanish sculptor Eduardo Chillida. The result is a striking minimalist art style that perfectly complements the abstract set design. A particular highlight is the hub area known as the Endless Tree: it's a stunning hike along a set route while branches twine around your path.
Composer Gabriel Garrido Garcia has created an absolutely wonderful score that is sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes heartwarming, but always heartfelt.
A problem of perspective
If it were possible to rotate the camera across the entire stage, the game would have a more legitimate puzzle-solving element. You could study the area better, look at possible routes and plan what steps you want to take to reach the next section. Instead, most of the time, moving the right stick just kind of pushes the camera sideways, showing a little more of the area you're already in. These stages are essentially big puzzles floating in the air.
Etherborn looks amazing, sounds incredible, and is centered around brilliant gameplay mechanics that at first feel like they lead to some clever puzzles, but ramp things up far too quickly and engulf you with frustratingly complex stages while you're still trying, to find your way. It's still a great game, but you'll need a lot of patience to stumble up its 90-degree difficulty curve. That makes it a gaming recommendation, but only to a limited extent for those who can get involved with something like that.