Ethan: Meteor Hunter Preview (PC)

Ethan: Meteor Hunter feels like a game that is trying to be too many things at once. You take on the role of Ethan, a small mouse with a rather impressive ability, but until you see this party trick, you're wondering what exactly is going on with this rather rudimentary and plain looking platformer.

When we have games like Rayman Origins showing how beautiful 2D games can be, while at the same time Super Meat Boy gives us cool retro styling, Ethan comes across as bland and brown, never creating a memorable look. Unfortunately, that first impression quickly follows a second, which is the running and jumping aren't that special either.

Somehow, that massive tail never gets caught in the spinning death blades. Now THAT'S a super power

The jumps are never pixel perfect, but some do require quick reactions. However, then that impressive ability I mentioned at the start comes into play and things start looking up. That's because Ethan's party trick is to pause time. Jets of fire blocking your way? Pause time and get past. A jump too big to cover, but the block you're standing on would be handy if it was where you need to land. Simple. Just jump toward nothing, stop the clock, leaving Ethan hanging in mid-air and move something for him to land on. It's quite satisfying, even more so when you have to start a chain reaction with the wonderful physics to get the little mouse past a rather nasty looking obstacle.

Yet here is where the time bending starts to break. Some puzzles work great and offer an interesting blend of physics and platforming, yet others not so much. It creates this weird imbalance that require fast platforming ala Mario and Sonic, then suddenly coming to a complete stop as you have a tricky puzzle to solve with time paused. You get into the rhythm of one style when you have to completely swap to the opposite end of the spectrum.

They also offer little room for mistakes, as each pause of time requires a collectible. For the 'leap into midair, pause, move object, resume' times– the collectibles work great, yet using the same mechanic for complex puzzles felt horribly contrived and got in the way of solving them.

Platforming is completely passable, but can feel at odds with the more complicated puzzles

The majority of the time collectibles are right next to where you need them, and if you're good you may have one extra pause, but the bigger physics puzzles require trial and error. During the demo I messed about with there was a puzzle that required the careful restacking of multiple boxes to allow you to press two buttons. This stacking was a complex affair, and something that required a couple of test runs to get your head around.

Yet the system just got in your way. Fail once and you have to go back to the checkpoint for another go. Thankfully, this is both quick and easy – there's even a button to force it – but it makes the puzzles so much harder than they really are. You not only reset Ethan, but the puzzle itself. Along with myself, I saw a few people have to totally reset a puzzle they'd nearly solved and just give up in frustration.

If you think back to Portal, and numerous other similar games, they let you try anything and everything to solve the conundrum in front of you. Then there'd be a stat of number of portals used. The truly masochistic of us that strive for perfect runs would go back and re-complete the levels with this new knowledge. Or you get to feel smart because you did it with so few. Then there's the joy of experimenting with your powers, seeing just how crazy you can get when everything's stopped. Ethan doesn't give you that ability, and it's a poorer game for it.

A sliding tile puzzle in just three moves? With a small mouse in the mix? Oh look, a checkpoint right before it

It's also a game that doesn't seem sure of its home. Currently on Steam Greenlight and a PC demo available, and it's coming to PS3 as well, the platforming is perfectly suited to a joypad controller. On the other hand, when time stops it feels like it should be a touch screen tablet game as it's a little fiddly lining up each item.

Judging from the platforming, I'd say that Seaven Studio knows that the time manipulation and physics puzzles are their selling point. Some work fantastically, especially those that help elevate the platforming above its serviceable nature. Unfortunately, the real brain teaser puzzles are out of place with the rest of the game. If Seaven could find a way to separate the two types of puzzles and make them work differently, and inject some individuality into the graphics, Ethan: Meteor Hunter could be a great game. As it stands now, I worry it will end up being an entirely forgettable platformer with a interesting hook it doesn't quite live up to.

Most Anticipated Feature/Element: Platforming with a solid blend of the physics puzzles are where Ethan: Meteor Hunter really stands out.

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