Not so long ago, it was commonplace to see many holiday-themedon games grace store shelves around their adjacent holidays. Halloween would see the release of games like Costume Quest, and Christmas would bring in the cheer with games like Santa Claus Saves the Earth and Cthulu Saves Christmas, among tons of others. In recent years, however, this once commonplace tradition has seemingly died down, for one very good reason – a lot of these games were just, frankly, not very good.
Imagine my surprise then when I saw the initial trailer for Ebenezer and the Invisible World. Based on the world present in Charles Dickens's classic A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer and the Invisible World is a gorgeous hand-drawn side-scrolling Metroidvania following the titular Ebenezer as he battles his way through the condemned ghosts and ghouls infesting Victorian-Era London.
If you're unfamiliar with the story of A Christmas Carol, it follows Ebenezer Scrooge, a shrewd old businessman who hates the Holiday season precisely because of the cheer and grace that strangers show each other. One Christmas Eve, Ebenezer's deceased business partner Jacob Marley visits him to warn him of his impending fate. Jacob is tethered to the mortal world after death due to his obsession with wealth and lack of charity while he lived. Afterward, three ghosts visit Ebenezer throughout the night and show him the folly of his miserly ways. When the night is all said and done, Ebenezer has a new-found joy for not only Christmas but life in general.
The game's story takes place after the events of A Christmas Carol, and it turns out that there are an untold number of spirits still attached to our mortal plane. Many of these spirits, like Jacob, wish to repent for the sins they committed while living. Unfortunately, due to their incorporeal state and their inability to speak to mortals, they are unable to enact their repentance. Ebenezer is one of the few people alive who can interact with these spirits, thus it is up to him to help them move on and find peace. However, there are many spirits who never wished to make amends for what they were like in life, and as such, they have become corrupt after death. These spirits try to stop Ebenezer on his quest through London and serve as the main antagonists throughout the experience.
The first thing that really separates Ebenezer and the Invisible World from many other Metroidvanias is the gorgeous hand-drawn art style. Everything from the way Ebenezer himself is depicted to the specters roaming London to the beautifully rendered backgrounds are stylized in such a way that you never quite grow tired of looking at them. To top it off, the entire thing is positively dripping with the feeling of the holidays, capturing the essence of Christmas in the quasi-disturbing way that only the story of A Christmas Carol can.
Many of the same tropes Metroidvania fans know and love are here, with a few cool features to distinguish the gameplay from others in the genre. There is a massive map comprised of primarily square rooms in which to explore, with many areas only accessible after finding certain companion ghosts that help Ebenezer along his journey. These powers can aid in both traversal and combat and mastering them will mean the difference between understanding obstacles and overcoming enemy types or becoming hopelessly lost within the labyrinthine London streets. On top of this, there are different canes Ebenezer can collect that offer a variety of combat and gameplay styles. In the demo, I was able to use the original cane Ebenezer Scrooge is famous for carrying, as well as a whip cane that allowed me to hit enemies from a further distance but for much less damage.
Puzzles also litter the world, with everything being accurate to the time period in which A Christmas Carol was written. For example, there is a puzzle that pertains to the solar system and its alignment. There were only 7 major plants discovered in our solar system at the time of the book's publishing of 1843, as Neptune wasn't discovered until 1846. Due to this, the puzzle's answer lies within the 7-planet system, instead of our 8-planet system today (sorry Pluto). According to the devs, this is how the entire game is structured, which is a fascinating way to create new head-scratchers in a world of similar games.
I had the pleasure of speaking to some of the wonderful people from Play on Worlds, and their passion for this project was absolutely oozing out of them. They seemed incredibly excited for the world to see the magic this title brings, and I think they should be proud of creating something Christmas-themed that is so interesting and original. Holiday games seem to be a dying breed, and they wanted to fill that gap with a unique and beautiful experience people could play over and over again each Holiday season. Ebenezer and the Invisible World is an interesting take on a beloved and wonderful IP, and I hope that it is able to scratch that Christmas itch so many people in the gaming world have.
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