Freezing time and allowing the manipulation of the world is big business in video games. I’m just not sure it’s ever been done by a meteorite powered rat. A meteorite powered rat with a grudge no less.
Ethan: Meteor Hunter tells the story of a rat, Ethan, who is hell bent on inflicting revenge on the neighbour who callously destroyed his home. After being hit with the full power of a meteorite, Ethan finds out that he is able to play around with time and is strong enough to move objects via the power of telekinesis. Are you able to help Ethan in his quest? Should you even want to help a rat out?
Well, you’re certainly not going to find anything too serious in this meteor hunting puzzle platformer and you’re also not going to find anything that will blow you away. You will however find a rather lovely little playthrough, albeit one suffering hugely from a bit of an identity crisis.
You see, I’m not exactly sure what Ethan: Meteor Hunter is meant to be. Yes, there are some great puzzle sections that will seriously test your mind, and the platforming goodies that have been thrown in to compliment them work pretty damn precisely. But in and amongst those two things are some side scrolling old-skool shmup mechanics and, even stranger, a nod to that mobile phenomenon from a few years back, DoodleJump. Yes, DoodleJump.
For the most part you’ll find yourself traversing levels that are filled with many obstacles. These will come in the form of lasers, spinning cogs, electrified fields, lava pools and a whole lot more. Basically though, if something looks bad, it probably turns out that it is bad and Ethan should be kept well away. This is done in the old fashioned platforming way, jumping (and to a lesser extent, sliding) out of the way. Whilst there is no double jump feature, or even a great opportunity to move Ethan too much when he is in the air, the platforming mechanics work precisely. At least for the majority of the time because there are a few moments which will have you tearing your hair out. This may be that Ethan refuses to move after respawning back at a checkpoint, or it might be that the old A button doesn’t seem to register. Thankfully the platforming issues are few and far between and can be mostly ignored. Occasionally, it might be that your reflexes and skills don’t come up to par, but hey, we can’t blame the developers for that.
Running deep into the tale and happily playing a supporting role to Ethan’s platforming goodies are some damn tricky puzzles. Thanks to the power of the meteorite, Ethan can collect time pauses and then use his mind to help move large objects around. You may just need to move a log so Ethan can hop aboard and run a sea of electricity, or you may find yourself trying to complete a complex wooden puzzle like those cubes you probably had as a kid. You’ll also find that numerous switches and catapults need to be actioned in order for your ratty friend to progress further. Now, whilst this all sounds great, in reality, it comes across as a bit too fiddly for my liking. A press of the X button takes you into telekinesis mode and from there a hand symbol allows you to pick up and place each object; one-by-one.
However, with a limited puzzle playing field, one that is usually very tight on restrictions, you need to be pretty damn spot on when dropping the objects back down. Unfortunately the thumbstick and trigger combo doesn’t allow for enough precision and whilst you would expect the d-pad to bring a higher degree of exactness, in reality it turns out to be even worse. Yes, you can rotate items fairly comprehensively with the other stick, but far too often I’ve been left screaming in frustration as I try to, not only solve the puzzle, but get each piece lined up to millimetre precision and in the correct place. When you think that you never really know if something is going to work or not, until you’ve come out of the paused screen – and used up your previously collected pause chances – all too often you’ll find yourself heading back to the nearest checkpoint in order to start again.
Thankfully, checkpoints are in huge supply with Ethan: Meteor Hunter and you’ll never have to go back too far when something goes wrong. But a tighter puzzling mechanic would have been hugely beneficial and would have added at least an extra half star to this review.
So, that’s the puzzle sections covered and we know that your meteor hunting will only ever work with some platforming action. What else could possibly be in place within Ethan’s story? Well, how about some weird 1980’s side scrolling shoot em up madness or some even weirder mobile pogo sticking? Yes, I’m not sure how or why either of these ideas were put into what is essentially a puzzle platformer either, but they do a remarkable job at breaking up the usual action and ensures that Ethan never, ever gets stale. Bravo to Seaven Studios for strangely deciding to put these sections in every now and then. It may seem bizarre, and I don’t know why they are there, but they work well and you’ll thoroughly enjoy hopping aboard a pogo stick and attempting to reach the top of the super pogo levels. Of course, you’ll die and you’ll fail a lot, but the quick pace in which you find yourself back into the action – something which is utilised to great effect across the whole game – will mean that you are never left to sit and twiddle your thumbs forever more.
With a huge number of dynamic levels and the chance to track yourself against three different challenges for each one, even once you are done with Ethan, there is a huge opportunity to go back and play through levels again. Chances are, unless you’re one of those new breed of speedrunners, you’ll struggle to grab the gold timings that are in place (in fact, some of them seem absolutely impossible to me), but being able to go back through and collect missing meteorite fragments or try to complete the levels by using less pauses than previous run throughs are definitely doable. The inclusion of a few hidden little secrets pushes the replayability up another notch too.
Ethan: Meteor Hunter comes with a few issues, most notably that the puzzles are too damn pedantic, but there is nothing that should make you worry too much about wasting your cash. Actually, should you be looking for something that is a bit of a halfway house between puzzle solver and core platformer, then it does the job. It’s not going to win any awards for either the visuals, the audio or in fact the overall experience, but it’s definitely worth checking out should you have a spare week or so. If only so you can check out its weirdness.
Being a rat ain’t all bad you know