Eternum EX, from the development team at Radin, is a game that promises to take us back to an age when the only way to really get involved with gaming was to go to the local arcade. Yes, I remember the days when I could go to the arcade in Oldham, on whose mean streets I grew up on, and play Street Fighter 2, the original, for 20p a go. It seems incredible now, but for 20p I could play Street Fighter, in an arcade, for a good 30 seconds. Anyway, enough of the memories and ramblings and join a world of magic, monsters and old men being very strangely spry in Eternum Ex.
The story of Eternum Ex is the usual kind of throwaway nonsense. Arthur is a very old man now. He has decided, as he has nothing left to lose, to go to the demon infested underworld and look for the fabled Fountain of Youth. What this translates into is a series of screens where Arthur must collect all of the chests in the level before a portal will open, whisking him to the next level before rinsing and repeating. The game can be played in two modes, which you have to choose before setting out on your quest; home mode ensures that your progress is saved but you can only have three continues before it’s game over. Whilst over in the arcade mode there is no saving, meaning you have to start again with the first level every time you fail, but in return you have an unlimited amount of continues to keep you going.
Whichever option you decide to run, each level has many platforms to jump on, and many chests to collect. To collect a chest you can just run over it, unless it is chained shut in which case you will need to hit it from underneath, much like Mario with his question blocks. But the plot thickens, as if you hit any chest from underneath it opens first a little, then more and finally it will disappear, leaving behind a special powerup Arthur can utilise. These range from a simple fireball which shoots from Arthur’s staff, all the way up to extra lives – rather quaintly called 1Ups – and other items that boost your score. So, you need to choose whether to just pick the chest up, open it or destroy it. But whichever path you choose, you can’t leave the level until all the chests are gone.
The controls are simple, with one button to jump and one to attack. Moving about is mapped onto the left stick, and that’s really about all there is; the rest of the time it’s up to you to keep Arthur safe from the ravening monsters. These range from minotaur-looking things that burrow out of the ground, usually right under your feet, to Medusa-styled foes that can seemingly leap large distances to mess you up, with a smattering of various flying beasties that either try and crash into you or shoot fireballs at you for good measure.
And that’s without even mentioning the bosses that come every five levels. A bit of a change from the norm, these run as long, thin vertically scrolling towers, packed with peril, and a boss squatting at the top like some kind of malignant King Kong. And if your reactions are as poor as mine, you’ll usually reach the boss with one life left and then get sent right the way back to the bottom to start again. Yes, Eternum Ex has got that old skool difficulty nailed, with one hit being enough to kill Arthur, and a limited number of lives in place before you are forced to restart whichever level you are on.
Graphically it’s nicely old skool as well, with rather endearing animated sprites wandering about – Arthur himself looks particularly good as he leaps and attacks through the levels. The music is period correct as well, evoking memories of Capcom’s seminal Ghouls and Ghosts; all with crashing organ chords and very dramatic. Otherwise the sound effects are limited to swishes as Arthur attacks and some vocalisations from the monsters, but again this fits with the era that the developers are trying to evoke.
The only real issue I have with Eternum Ex, apart from a slight case of deja vu as each level loads, is that the controls aren’t as sharp as I’d like them to be. There seems to be an instance of input lag before Arthur either jumps or attacks, and this is usually enough to get you killed. It just isn’t as instant and precise as you need it to be in a game of this type, and the number of times I have died as the monster I was hitting also died was enough to make me put the controller down. Otherwise it’s all very solid though, and being a proper challenge means that the hook is there to ensure we pick that controller back up again.
All in all and Eternum EX on Xbox One is a pretty good entry into the increasingly crowded retro market. It’s hard, challenging and, once you get used to the timing of the inputs, it’s good fun. The twitch reaction is very hard to pull off, due to the input lag, but it doesn’t spoil the experience. In fact, accompanying Arthur on his journey is one that I recommend you try if you are looking for a proper challenge.