By Logan Barnes
For some time, games that have claimed to be “puzzle games” have felt like nothing more than “Bejeweled” clones or extended tutorials that never let you have free reign with the puzzles.
“Ethan: Meteor Hunter” goes back to puzzle gaming roots and takes you on a hardcore, puzzle solving action adventure.
In “Ethan: Meteor Hunter,” we follow the tale of a rodent, presumably named Ethan, that has gained abilities similar to telekinesis that allow him to stop time and move large objects at will. As the cut scenes are little more than motion-comics that lack narration, most of the story is left up to player interpretation. The gist of it is that Ethan is competing to collect pieces of a large meteor that fell from the sky, along with the occasional pile of stinky French cheese.
Developed by Seaven Studios, a small, French indie studio, “Ethan” is a downloadable title for the PC and PS3. Taking elements from both puzzle games and platformers, “Ethan” comes down to a test of skill and smarts rolled into one little package.
Positives include the surprising difficulty and sheer thought-provoking nature of many of the puzzles, a fun little telekinesis mechanic that allows for multiple routes through a puzzle and overall game length.
Negatives come in the form of the surprising difficulty, lack of a clear goal during some puzzles and sloppy controls.
First, positively, “Ethan” is the first puzzle game that I’ve played in a while that features truly difficult puzzles. Not since the “Professor Layton” series for Nintendo DS have I encountered brain-benders quite like those in “Ethan.” This game will surely make you think.
A defining element of the puzzles are Ethan’s telekinetic powers. Ethan can stop time, manipulate certain objects in the world, and restart time at a moment’s notice. This leads to many puzzles where time must be stopped in the air and Ethan given a platform to work from. This telekinetic element also leads to many routes through puzzles.
One of the challenge rankings at the end of each mission is based on how few times you can use telekinesis to get through a level. I found multiple ways to clear several of the puzzles by thinking in “out-of-the-box” ways and using a platform in unique ways. This led to a great sense of accomplishment.
The game is also satisfyingly long for a downloadable title, landing in around 10-15 hours depending on how long you spend picking your brain at each puzzle.
The game does have quite a few negatives, though.
First, it is very difficult. Most of the time I would complain about having a hint system in a game that does nothing, but “Ethan” could’ve easily benefitted from even a small hint system, especially during boss encounters.
Boss puzzles are actively changing puzzles that require a combination of quick-thinking, memorization and skill to overcome. They also give you no clear indication of how to beat the boss, leading to much trial-and-error and unnecessary deaths. I spent over half an hour on the first boss alone trying to figure out how to beat him when the obvious ways wouldn’t work. Challenging and frustrating are two different concepts that “Ethan” struggles to balance.
Also, some of the controls for the game are quite unforgiving.
During time-stopped telekinesis mode, no matter what happens, if you move an object any amount of distance it counts as a use of your power. Now, there is a reset button for this, but it takes you out of time-stop mode to do so. I fell in acid many times trying to reverse an action I messed up, and just dropping from the sky after I reset.
The button layout is also not very intuitive and the controls take some time to get used to, but outside of the time-stopping fiascos, the controls work okay otherwise.
Overall, the game is moderately entertaining. If you’re looking for a cheap mental challenge presented in a pretty detailed video game setting, “Ethan: Meteor Hunter” is right for you. However, if you’re turned off by super-hard puzzles and frustrating trial-and-error, avoid this game like stinky cheese.
“Ethan: Meteor Hunter” squeaks by with a 7/10.