Already available on the PlayStation 3 and via Valve’s computer-based Steam client, Ethan: Meteor Hunter features a plucky rat that’s bestowed with the power of time freezing and teleportation. Despite the zany premise, this side-scroller has already won one major award and been nominated for a number of others – but has this side-scroller made the switch to the PlayStation Vita well, or does it feel like the protagonist’s gnawed his way through several of the system’s vital wires?
Kicking off with a basic cut-scene that shows meteors striking the anthropomorphic rodent’s home –leading to his telekinesis powers, of course – you’re whisked away to a hub world allowing you to select which level you want to play. Each of these are themed, with the first featuring a rustic machinery backdrop and matching traps, in addition to various genre mainstays like checkpoints, collectible crystals, and a running timer to keep track of how long you’re taking.
In addition to the traditional hop-happy gameplay, the hairy hero can also slide down slopes to pick up momentum ahead of pits of death, and utilise his telekinesis powers. Unfortunately, this isn’t a limitless ability, and is instead restricted to the use of items found in the level. When you’re properly equipped, this allows you to stop time and manipulate objects such as blocks, culminating in a range of slider-esque puzzles and more.
The finite use of this feature forces you to think wisely about what you’re going to do, as once the objects have been moved and alterations to the level confirmed, you can’t move anything unless you’ve picked up another item. Thankfully, should you make a wrong move, you can hold circle at any time to respawn at the nearest checkpoint, which resets any changes made to the stage, allowing you to try again. However, while it’s an interesting idea, it prompts many of the title’s primary problems.
Indeed, a number of the conundrums are incredibly annoying, not simply because they’re difficult – although scratching your head for 20 minutes isn’t especially enjoyable – but because the controls are ridiculously imprecise. When moving an object, you can either use the sticks or the touch screen, but the latter blocks your view while the former is fiddly, meaning that even if you know the solution to the presented problem, actually applying your theory can cause serious issues.
Frustratingly, it gets worse: you’re forced to manoeuvre the objects in incredibly small spaces, and they cannot be moved outside of that area or overlapped. This means that when you attempt to move a block into a small space, the game will sometimes reset where you placed it due to its close proximity to another item – even if there’s room for it to fit. Given the miniscule gaps that you’re forced to work with in some of the tougher puzzles, you need to make every millimetre count, and the last thing that you want when you’ve wrestled with the oversensitive controls is to see your work unnecessarily undone.
These control issues expand to the movement of the titular rodent, too. Upon landing a jump or holding in a particular direction, Ethan will insist on taking a few unexpected steps to come to a stop. While this may prove true in real life, it doesn’t translate well to a game that’s all about precision, and we often found ourselves landing in the desired spot, only for the character to bundle straight off the edge of a ledge due to his awkward animations.
At least there’s some variety, with a Doodle Jump-style level that sees you traversing a vertical obstacle course. Alas, the good work is undone by a complete lack of checkpoints in this area, which serves to highlight the title’s problems: a lack of player testing. There are some good ideas here, but it’s unwieldy and frustrating, and will turn you right off.
Ethan: Meteor Hunter plays around with some interesting concepts, but although its pitched as Super Meat Boy meets Braid, it fails to do either justice. With frustrating controls and irritating puzzles, we recommend avoiding this one like the plague.