Inoffensively Unremarkable: A Review of Ethan: Meteor Hunter

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Ethan: Meteor Hunter reminds me a lot of the film Krull.

Released in 1983, Krull was one in a long line of “space operas” that grabbed firmly onto the coattails of the Star Wars films and held on for dear life. There are strange aliens, a powerful artifact weapon (the Glaive), and a princess held captive in a massive black fortress. It’s a decent film, if not a tad bit similar to A New Hope.

In much the same way as Krull, Ethan: Meteor Hunter is not especially bad. I’m sure there are people out there who swear by Krull, who think it’s far superior to Lucas’ seminal trilogy, who might’ve caught it on cable before somebody introduced them to The Force. That’s fine.

Had I discovered Ethan: Meteor Hunter on a dusky Saturday afternoon, long before stuff like Braid, Limbo, or Fez, I might have enjoyed it more than I did. It might’ve wormed its way into my mind as something special.

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That’s the problem though. By this point I’ve already played countless games where you jump around and solve physics puzzles using interesting mechanics. Ethan: Meteor Hunter’s primary trick is one that goes back to the early days of Xbox Live Arcade – you can pause the action and rearrange select objects on the screen at will. Even if I haven’t experienced that exact same thing before, I’ve sure done plenty of things close to it, whether it’s rewinding time in Braid or timing my jumps to match a spinning world in Fez.

The thing that elevates those beloved games above Ethan: Meteor Hunter is far more ephemeral than mechanics though. It’s the same thing that makes Star Wars a classic and Krull a poster you saw in the back of your local video rental place growing up. It’s a feeling – a spirit – that undergirds a thing, something that’s contagious and gets under your skin.

It’s that sense of adventure that infuses every pixel of Fez, be it an epic Technicolor waterfall or a dismal two-tone cavern. It’s in the swells of Disasterpiece’s masterful soundtrack. It’s in that moment when you pierce the veil and realize what’s really going on in the game.

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Nothing in Ethan: Meteor Hunter has that spark. Sure, there’s a villain you’re supposed to beat, but the story is barely more than a NES manual blurb. There was a meteor, it fell, and you need to collect the pieces. The levels are little more than glorified tilesets, the music is inoffensive but forgettable, and the few forays away from the primary time stop mechanic into side-scrolling shooter or pogo jumping seem arbitrary at best. The puzzles themselves only rarely achieve the transcendent ‘a-ha’ moments that make the entire process worthwhile, falling back on the sliding box routine a little too often.

That’s not to say that it’s a bad game. At no point was I so outraged I had to step away from it, which is admirable for a genre that can often find itself exceedingly obtuse and infuriating. The puzzles themselves, despite their critical lack of heart, are solidly designed.

Then again, so was Krull.