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Review29th Apr 2014

Ethan: Meteor Hunter Review

I believe it was Scottish poet Robert Burns who said, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often lead to mediocre Vita titles”. Granted, that might not be the exact quote, but in the case of Studio Seaven’s Ethan: Meteor Hunter, it does seem somewhat appropriate

Originally released last October for PC and PS3, the astronomical adventure stars the anthropomorphic rodent, Ethan, who acquires psychic abilities after a run-in with a glowing meteor. These powers allow him to freeze time and levitate objects using only his mind – an intriguing conceit that serves as the game’s primary mechanic.

With the exception of a stilted introductory cutscene that swiftly sets up our hero’s telekinesis and meteoric crusade, there is little story to be found here. Instead, the focus is placed squarely on gameplay – a blend of brutal twitch platforming and perplexing puzzle-solving. Unfortunately, due to persistent control issues and some confusing design choices, the resulting experience fails to excel in either area.

This is not to say that this side-scrolling squeak-’em-up is awful by any stretch of the imagination. It provides over fifty levels of solid puzzle-platforming, whose bite-sized stages are well-suited for playing on the go.

Ethan Meteor Hunter Screenshot

In addition to simply finishing a course, each mission has three optional subgoals to attempt, involving collecting meteor fragments, besting time trials and using your powers sparingly. The trouble is that, while extra objectives provide replayability, completing them is often difficult due to the game’s aforementioned control problems.

Manoeuvring Ethan feels strangely weighty, especially for a mouse, and it takes a while for him to lurch into action. This, combined with twitchy, imprecise handling makes basic platforming a lot tougher than it needs to be. And when level design is this unforgiving – serpentine labyrinths full of deadly traps and pitfalls – it’s easy to find yourself feeling slightly cheated. Fortunately, the checkpoint system is pretty generous, and if required it’s quick and easy to teleport back to the previous area.

Collecting tokens grants access to “pause mode”, typically used for creating makeshift paths or connecting electrical conduits. Again though, this interesting notion simply doesn’t live up to its potential. A combination of a disorientating visual perspective and fiddly item placement can make these sections incredibly frustrating. Also, the floaty physics engine (and the lack of a grid system) leads to objects frequently becoming trapped, necessitating a lot of painstaking repositioning.

Ethan Meteor Hunter Screenshot 3

Another complication arises from the game’s Vita-specific functionality, which allows you to control your psychic abilities in one of three ways: using the analogue sticks, the front touch, or the back touch. While each of these systems work reasonably well individually, it quickly becomes apparent that they interfere with each other in practice. Gripping the handheld, it’s all-too-easy to accidentally brush the back touch, causing objects to spiral out of control, and ruining potential speed runs.

One of Ethan: Meteor Hunter’s more positive aspects is its vibrant 2.5D visuals, replete with shifting backdrops, textured foregrounds and subtle particle effects. Saturated colours drain to black and white upon halting time, and rushing flame throwers, whirring saws and bubbling pools bring environments to life. Regrettably though, levels tend to blend together after a while due to their perceptible lack of diversity. And Ethan himself – with his routine animations and plain appearance – can also become tiresome; as can the repetitive and forgettable soundtrack.

Occasionally, the game’s rote platforming is broken up by piloting a rocket ship, or climbing a steep chasm on a pogostick. But while these segments provide some enjoyable variety, they are too infrequent to make much of an impact, and in the end only serve as a fleeting distraction. 

Ethan: Meteor Hunter presents players with some interesting concepts, but tragically fails to capitalise on them. It’s telekinetic twist is stifled by control issues that also plague its platforming, and though visuals initially please, a lack of variety soon does the opposite. While there certainly is sporadic fun to be found here, it does come with frequent doses of confounding frustration, and at its current price, I’m sad to say, this mouse simply isn't worth the cheese.

5½
 
out of a maximum of 10
Rob Gisbey – Writer
Rob Gisbey is a freelance games journalist and music production graduate from Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.

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