Tucked away at the side of Hall 9 of the Birmingham NEC, located rather close to the in-hall restaurant, sat a Ethan: Meteor Hunter. Despite having a huge Indiana Jones looking mouse, with a strangely human-esque face, standing on a rock looking eagerly into the future as the stands background; first impressions of Ethan: Meteor Hunter would certainly lead you to believe this is little more than a rather pretty looking two-dimensional platformer about some adventurer mouse. How wrong you would be.
Starting out rather unassumingly just like that, Ethan very quickly piles on the fun by drip-feeding you its unique blend of puzzle and platforming gameplay. Think of the Trine series and you’ll be partway there, but imagine it blended with aspects from other – more classic – platformers and you’re some of the way to understanding what French developers Seaven Studios has managed to accomplish.
Taking on the role of a meteor hunter (read: adventurer) mouse called Ethan, Ethan employs the use of physics to help solve puzzles and navigate levels. In some respects you’ll be solving complex puzzles and make use of almost LittleBigPlanet-style contraptions. One level saw us riding a wooden block over a runner of spinning razor blades, their motion helping conveyor belt you along above the danger below. Of course, that would be too simple, so to throw you off you quickly have to stop time, manoeuvre the block above you and run below more spinning blades to protect you from fire funnels spitting out deadly flames above.
And it’s here where the true magic of Ethan manifests. While the wonderful use of physics creates inertia for sliding down slopes and building up momentum to make long jumps or pushing blocks, your ability to freeze time and move blocks around is just fantastic. You can’t just use it willy-nilly though, you’ll need to pick up time-pausing stones, usually placed at moments when you need them. Problems range from the simple use of making steps all the way up to charging electrical panels and multi-part mindbenders.
It’s made all the more interesting thanks to blocks having individual properties and natural physics too. You’ll be able to charge steel blocks with electricity when an outlet touches it, and wooden blocks burn under fire too. You can also freeze time while in the air, allowing you to position blocks underneath Ethan to help make longer jumps or to reach higher places.
One instance of a room full of jump pads caused utter chaos. Each pad you jumped on would send you flying off into another that, unsurprisingly, would do the same. You’d be caught in an eternal loop if you weren’t careful. Throw in a couple of blocks to help solve the problem of getting up out of the top of the room – it’s a crushingly obvious solution too – and you’ve got a hilarious moment of mouse and blocks furiously flying and colliding in the air.
Despite those self-created humorous moments, of which there will be many based purely off playing with physics, Ethan is also rather morbidly amusing. Watching him be crushed, burned, drowned or diced by the many traps and hazards, is always enjoyable. Instead of frustration you just laugh and jump right back in; a promising sign indeed.
Set to release on PC and PS3 this summer, with Mac and Linux builds on the way at a later date, Ethan: Meteor Hunter brings 50 levels across three different worlds and is currently on Steam Greenlight for you to vote up and get published.
Quite honestly, from what I’ve seen and played so far, I can’t see why you wouldn’t want to have this gem on your PC or on your PS3 hard drive.