Developers: Edmund McMillen & Tyler Gaiel
Publisher: Armor Games
Format: PC (browser/flash)
Edmund McMillen is known to create various experimental games from time to time, and Aether is one of them. Experimental is a word I'd deem fitting for this game, as it is different from most other games. This is a game about flying through space on your octopus until you land on one of the various planets so that you can solve whatever problem is on it. If that's not different from the mainstream of games I couldn't tell you what is.
Premise isn't the only thing setting it apart from most games. There's also the mechanics. While you do have running and jumping, the primary mechanic is using the octopus' tongue to grab onto clouds and meteors so that you can fling yourself higher until you're into space, which is where you use the tongue to direct yourself towards other planets.
The planets are interesting in their design, simply as planets. These are small planets; so small that you can see the curvature of them. You can easily run around the circumference of one in a handful of seconds. With all the different gravities going on it's not a surprise the camera is constantly moving to figure out which way is truly down. The camera isn't too bad about this when moving from planet to planet. For example, the general down direction is towards the center of the nearest planet. This was the camera doesn't suddenly switch as you're approaching a planet.
What you do on each planet is simple, unexplained, and different than what you had to do on the last planet. These quests are unexplained, not even referenced by the few NPCs there are. Almost every task you do is done with the octopus' tongue, so all you have to do is run around until you find the things you have to interact with. The game at least has that consistency with it's quests. After each planet is helped the NPCs still don't change much, but what does change is one planet in particular.
You start off from Earth, and you leave Earth to help the other planets. Problem is, each time you help a planet the Earth gets smaller and smaller until it can't even support you. As a matter of fact when you go back to it after doing everything else you destroy the planet upon impact and land on the moon.
Narrative is done through small slideshows in the beginning and end of the game, and do little more than introduce the octopus and say "to be continued". The world building itself comes from the small chunks of dialogue that come from the NPCs on each island. One thing that can be learned quite quickly is that just about everyone is upset, mean, and grumpy. Even doing the various things on their planet does nothing. They'll still talk about wanting to blow up the planet or hating some other guy. It makes for quite a grumpy world over all.
The music is a blend of many various instruments, like the piano, drums, and violins. It's very atmospheric and fits well with every planet. The visual style is similar to almost every other Edmund McMillen title; being beautifully hand drawn and smoothly animated. The color pallet for a planet itself is always gray and white, with only it's defining feature/problem being in a solid color. Once you fix the problem on that planet then the world flashes for a brief moment to reveal the whole planet (excluding NPCs) in full color! Just how gorgeous each planet looks should be motivation enough to solve each problem.
All in all, Aether is a unique little gem that I now look back at from time to time to adore. It's a very quick play through, with only four planets with a load of space garbage in between them. It's a simple experience wrapped up in a unique love.
Play Aether HERE