"If there's one thing you have to know about this game and us, it's that we're bastards."
So said Seaven Studio Producer Olivier Penot as I died again in his 2D platformer, Ethan: Meteor Hunter. Penot didn't seem a bastard as we chatted, smiley enough in the midst of a four-day public expo. Then again, his game looked friendly, too. The preview build gently introduced Ethan: Meteor Hunter's core mechanic of telekinetic powers. Ethan, the mouse hero, can pick up pause buttons that let him freeze time, during which he can move certain objects around using an on-screen hand. The puzzles are about using each time-freezing opportunity correctly, as the buttons themselves are sparse and deliberately placed.
"We know we are another puzzle platformer indie with one cool mechanic, so we are trying to not make the mistake of [using that mechanic] again, and again, and again," Penot told me. "You know, after 15 levels you get bored. So we are trying to have strong diversity in the game."
Sure enough, I played a flying level where I used a plane to fire down mines frittering about, and another level that looked to be built for speedrunning. However, what more defined that lack of dependence was the challenge, which was at times a tad sadistic. Not just in the puzzles, which leaving me stumped on a few occasions, but the platforming itself.
Ethan's journey was stuffed with spikes, toxic fluid, electric beams, and more, all placed in ways designed to catch me out, and often. With the platforming itself just a a touch loose, and the checkpoints interspersed fairly widely, there was an old-school air about Ethan: Meteor Hunter. It stars a cheeky little critter, but the presentation belies the difficulty.
To get Ethan: Meteor Hunter out this month, Seaven's team has lived on unemployment benefits, with no guaranteed source of income when they run out. In fact, Seaven all but had to get the game out by this month; the benefits only last for a year, and with the PS4 out next month, Seaven felt the pressure to get it on PS3 beforehand.
The reality is that Ethan: Meteor Hunter is likely make-or-bust for Seaven Studio. If the game flops, that may be it for a small team 100 percent committed to self-publishing.
"We've got one bullet," as Penot put it.
In a winter season busier than most, there's no certainty Ethan: Meteor Hunter will sell enough when it arrives on PS3 and PC later this month, priced at $10. Even if it fails, there'll be no regrets from Seaven. "At least we tried," Penot said.
Underneath an exterior that doesn't scream for attention as much as Seaven would probably like, Ethan: Meteor Hunter could be something of a hidden gem. In one tough level, three spiked wheels chased Ethan through a maze of obstacles, before mixing that up with some time-freezing puzzling. With no time to dither, there was an appreciable frenzy to a level that certainly showed potential.
The coup de grace was the collection of springs dotted around, placed to send Ethan back from whence he came and right into the mouth of the spiked juggernaut. Those were bastards.
If Ethan: Meteor Hunter delivers on its potential, sales-wise in particular, there's a good chance it'll come to Vita, too. Penot even suggested the possibility of a PS4 port (it's also on Steam Greenlight), but what matters right now is how the game fares in a few weeks' time.
"We know we are another indie puzzle platformer. I think we've got a good game," Penot said. "Players do seem to enjoy it, but it's not going to be game of the year. But we want players to say, 'Okay, I had a very good time, and I think the value was very good.' If we do that, then we'll have done our job."