At a glance...

Previewer Platform Publisher Developer Players Release Date
Matt Bailey PlayStation 3 Seaven Studios Seaven Studios 1 October 2013

Ethan: Meteor Hunter preview

As I said in my round up of this year's Rezzed PC and indie games show, Seaven Studio's Ethan: Meteor Hunter took me by surprise, and I really enjoyed it. So with Ethan here at Gamescom, I made sure to talk to Seaven about the game and see the latest build in action, especially after they promised it had moved on a bit since Rezzed two months ago.

As mentioned before, Ethan is a side-scrolling puzzle-platformer where you get to freeze time after you pick up power ups and then move about objects to solve the challenges. What I hadn't seen before is how much platforming is in some of the more difficult levels. While you may be great at solving the puzzles, Ethan will still expect you to be able to jump at the right time, and think quickly to avoid moving dangers such as flaming balls of rock. With about 50 levels in the game, Seaven will be introducing new mechanics and upping the difficulty as you go, so if they get the curve right then you will be ready for the extra bits of platforming challenge when you reach them. They want everyone to be able to complete the game, but also don't want to make it too easy.

We did see someone spend rather too long trying to complete this puzzle

We did see someone spend rather too long trying to complete this puzzle

For those that are able to whizz through the levels there is an extra layer of challenge with the game displaying things like the optimal number of freeze time powers (which is probably fewer than the number you were given on the level) or a target time. These provide incentives for people to go back and play the levels again, trying to improve on their scores, and the online leaderboards for the PS3 version will help with this too (the Windows/Mac/Linux editions should get these too if the game is Greenlit on Steam). I can certainly testify that the latter levels are difficult when jumping straight to them, after I died repeatedly in front of the producer, much to his amusement, while he showed off his skills in a level set mostly in the dark. They also want to avoid making the mechanics too repetitive, so there is an aim to have a good variety of ideas across the game's three worlds.

Getting the right flow to the game's challenges is important. It fact, it turns out that as well as promoting their game to a wider audience, Seaven used all that feedback from the public getting hands-on time with their game at Rezzed to make some adjustments to improve the game. Since that event there have been changes to how things are presented to you, as well as an important addition to how the blocks are rotated. Before you could only freely rotate a block with the right stick, but now you can use a shoulder button to rotate the block into one of eight fixed positions which helps you get the angle right for tight spaces. It's great to see the developer taking on board feedback and from observations of people playing their game in a public arena. Those people can feel happy that the difficulties they ran into hopefully won't be there for everyone when the game comes out.

I can already see myself dying a lot here

I can already see myself dying a lot here

If the freeze time and move blocks mechanic seems familiar, then maybe you tried Funky Lab Rat from the PS3's PlayStation Store. It turns out that Seaven features some of the developers who worked on that game too, but the similarity ends at that mechanic (and both game's use of a rodent as the lead protagonist). What used to be a set of single-room levels has become a side-scrolling game with lots of platforms and traps in addition to time-based puzzle solving. There is a brand new engine in Ethan, and the visual style and progression systems are completely different. So, really, they are two different games that share some developers and share a mechanic that creates such interesting puzzles that we're happy to see it in action again.

There is a huge amount of content going into Ethan: Meteor Hunter and Seaven are now in the process of polishing it up ready to send over to Sony for certification. Vita and other platforms are under consideration once the game goes out the door, but at launch it will also be arriving on Windows PCs alongside the PS3 edition, with Mac and Linux versions due next year.

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