Platform reviewed: Nintendo Switch
Also on: PlayStation 5, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, Xbox Series X and Series S
I never thought I’d write a game review about Ebenezer Scrooge. But I had the opportunity to play the recent release of Ebenezer and The Invisible World, a charming Metroidvania. While the lore-building and the art are outstanding, the game struggles to find its identity: it feels torn between being a story-driven platformer or a souls-like game.
The standout feature of the art is its hand-drawn quality, and it skillfully depicts nineteenth-century London. There were moments when I just stopped and took in the scenery. I loved the parallax scrolling effect; this added to the world-building around London. There’s so much detail in even the littlest things, like window shops with baked goods or people dancing in the windows. The world felt so alive, one of my favorite aspects of the game. My only objection is how small everything is, especially playing in handheld mode on the Switch. I had difficulty reading the text because the print was so small.
The lore is fantastic as well. The story takes place after the events of A Christmas Carol. Another chained ghost approaches Ebenezer and beseeches him to help his childhood friend, Caspar Malthus, who is going down the wrong path. Three Christmas spirits visited Caspar, who is also a wealthy businessman. However, an evil force is at play, and a darker spirit shows Caspar a different version of the future, one that will make him even more powerful than he imagined.
The events of A Christmas Carol must have been so traumatic for Ebenezer, and the side effect of such an event is that he can now see other ghosts. Each of these ghosts has their own tragic tale and implores Ebenezer to help them. These are side quests, and helping them will unlock the spirits' power used in combat. Being a completionist, I set out to help all these spirits with their requests. I soon discovered that you absolutely need to complete these quests if you want to have any chance of defeating bosses in this game. These abilities act like magic, and using these powers will exhaust a mana bar. Doing damage to enemies with physical attacks replenishes this bar.
While I loved the stories created around each of these ghosts, the problem I had was these quests were set up primarily as fetch quests. And this would have worked, except that the map didn’t provide any information on where to go to complete them. I struggled with finding a character the ghost mentioned to return a specific object to them so the spirit could be free. And traversing the world can be treacherous. Hidden throughout the map are a few save spots, but you cannot fast-travel between them, which would have been extremely helpful.
For the most part, the combat works. Ebenezer’s initial weapon is a cane, but exploring and completing quests unlock new weapons. Scattered throughout the map are heirlooms, which give Ebenezer passive bonuses. Even though these heirlooms aren’t on the map, I felt that this was a fair incorporation of exploration. My issue lies with the scaling of enemies, making traveling in a zone too tricky. A few enemies would launch grenades or other projectiles that I couldn’t avoid or hit back at the enemies. Dying was particularly frustrating, especially when I was trying to find where to turn in my quest. Starting over from a safe location that was far away from where I was when I died was aggravating.
My biggest complaint is that the game couldn’t decide if it wanted to be a souls-like or lore-driven narrative. As I mentioned, unlocking the spirits and their powers is vital to success in the boss battles. The bosses are fairly challenging but nearly impossible without those abilities. There is a dodge move that Ebenezer can utilize, but it feels awkwardly implemented, and most times, I find myself sliding into the enemy instead of away from them. If the side-quests showed locations on the map where they could be completed, this would have given me a better chance of achieving them and a better chance at defeating these bosses.
Final Score: B-
There’s a lot I like about Ebenezer and The Invisible World. The art is well done but has some accessibility issues due to how small everything is, specifically around the text in the game. The lore behind the game is one of the best parts, but it feels overshadowed by the spirit fetch quests and the lack of direction of where to turn them in. These side quests are essential to stand a chance against the bosses in the game. Rather than trying to make an extremely challenging platformer, I would have rathered the game lean into the narrative.
Review code provided by Stride PR.