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Etherborn simmers with a mysterious world. Neon green mushrooms rise from the land, a nod to the gravity shift when walking on it. The player’s character is a sheer, white flesh human with hot pink organs, though the organs are more reminiscent of trees with their dangling, ever-intertwined roots. At the game’s start, you’re born as a voiceless body, when a bodyless voice (presumably, your own) guides you through the game’s dizzying perspective changes (of the walking on walls variety). In the most succinct of reasonings, you’re on a journey to find your voice.
”We like artistic games,” one of the developers from Barcelona-based developers Altered Matter tells me. They list Journey and other textbook “artistic” games to me, primary influences in their navigational platformer. Then one name catches my ear: Chiharu Shiota, a Japanese installation artist known for the eerie web-like embrace of her work. The Shiota influence is a surprising one, because it isn’t apparent in the demo I’m playing, or at least not beyond the inter-tangled innards of the sheer protagonist. Though Altered Matter urge that her influence will become apparent as the game goes on.
In Etherborn, I gracefully leaped over oozing green acid in my demo; this included the age-old platforming we’re familiar with: hopping over ledges, sprinting for speed. And initially, it seems like any other title in the genre, until you find yourself running up a curved wall—like a skateboard ramp—and suddenly the camera shifts, and that wall becomes your ground. It’s jarring and disorienting initially, so much so that I found myself struggling to get the hang of it (a common issue, luckily, according to the developers).
But originally, Etherborn’s camera didn’t shift a muscle. “The cognitive process was less profound,” said Samuel Cohen, art lead and game designer at Altered Matter. “[And we] needed to stimulate a sense of wonder for the player.” That sense of wonder turned into walking on walls, ceilings, and anything the player sees as an approachable surface in the game. Gravity shifts with a quick stroll up a curved wall, but is reachable by other means as well. Sometimes a leap of faith plopped me into an unexpected place; or sometimes I hit a dead end, and soaked in the environment to plan my next move.
Etherborn is the latest platformer, at least that I’ve noticed, to embrace the low-poly art style beyond its limitations. Where low-poly isn’t seen as a detriment because of lack of resources as an independent developer, but is utilized as a moving, evocative aesthetic that’s easy to identify with. The player’s character is a blank slate that anyone can see themselves within, making that journey to find their voice all the more illuminating. Etherborn is currently aiming for release in October or November 2017 for PC and Xbox One.
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