Ebenezer and the Invisible World Review – A Ghastly Christmas

A Christmas Carol was one of my favorite books growing up. I also still fondly remember the 2009 Disney movie which I saw in theaters during a school trip. Scary stuff that was. My first reaction to the premise of Ebenezer and the Invisible World was a slight chuckle, but after giving it a little bit of thought, why not? Why wouldn’t this work? It’s London, freezing during Christmas, with danger looming and ghosts abound. A metroidvania about Ebenezer Scrooge becoming a hero following his change of heart sounds awesome.

It appears, however, that I got my hopes up too high. The plot rarely places Ebenezer in a scenario other than a superhero figure for this story. During opportunities for deeper delineations through textbox dialogue, he always has the right words and the right answers. Though his “bah, humbug” is charming, there is so much potential here that is merely skimmed over due to the weak writing.

Long bit of text explaining how Casper is coming close to realizing his father's dream of crushing workers
The intro slides are so long that the soundtrack looped five times before they ended

Ebenezer and the Invisible World has text aplenty, but most of it is straightforward expository dialogue or plain messages progressing the plot forward. The looming danger in this case is the combination of both the police force and ghosts from the “invisible world” trying to stop the titular character. I genuinely appreciate the idea here, as the streets are packed and one of the first things you do in this game is save a protesting worker from a corrupt official. A metroidvania set in such a tumultuous but lively location sounds promising, but that thread quickly moves to the wayside for the sake of another storyline.

Caspar is a young businessman who inherited wealth from his father—someone who simply detested workers. His entire life’s purpose was to remove the working class, but due to growing weak he planned to implant the same into his son. Although Caspar, just like Ebenezer, was haunted by the visions of what he would become should he follow that path, his father’s ghost convinced him that these images could be used to create a mechanism that would fulfill his dreams far quicker. Thus, Ebenezer has to bring evidence from the past, present, and future to break him out of the conviction that his father was righteous in his quest for mass murder. Yeah…

A ghost explaining to Ebenezer how doing good is good and what they are doing to help Casper is good
The game literally goes “doing good is good, and what we are doing is good”

This largely dominates what could have been an interesting story of Scrooge making amends for his past mistakes by saving other wayward souls. There is a simple, unimaginable evil abound, and plenty of side-stories of ghosts struggling to move to the other world, but Ebenezer and the Invisible World lacks any profound moments of reflection, failing to derive any real morals aside from “just be nice okay?” You won’t find anything nearly as haunting as the timeless stories of A Christmas Carol; the focus here, for six to ten hours, lies entirely on a bland protagonist far removed from what made the Scrooge I knew great.

There are glimpses of something more inspiring now and then. The hand-drawn background art steals the show, with surprising elements such as giant ghosts found in some corners of London. Sometimes their eyes may follow Ebenezer around as he platforms and swings his cane in a classic metroidvania fashion. As far as I could tell, however, there is nothing in Ebenezer and the Invisible World explaining who they are exactly, making them just quick glimpses rather than something the player can dive into if they are so inclined.

On the left: Ebenezer and the flying ghost orphan archer. On the right: a giant ghost staring them down
The big guy is as surprised as I was to see that the ghost orphan would be following me for the whole game

When I think of other games that use striking imagery like this, they tend to grab my interest enough to where I want to learn more. Why is this here? Why does it look like that? These questions propel the sense of discovery. In Ebenezer and the Invisible World, there is close to nothing to satisfy that curiosity. Though the game has a journal with detailed item, character, and enemy descriptions, they do not make up any grander narrative when put together, it is all just unimportant details.

Very little uniqueness can be found in the gameplay as well. Going left, right, jumping, descending, attacking in four directions, unlockable abilities such as double jump or glide, bosses that are largely okay with well-telegraphed attacks but do not fit well into the world visually. There is nothing here that would wow any seasoned player, though also nothing to scoff at for the most part. All these things, however, are dragged down by animations and design choices.

A patient at the asylum as a boss battle
An asylum patient is a good pick for a boss in a game about helping those in need

Animations are often very puppet-like, where it feels like each body part of a character moves on its own. The regular strike sort of makes Ebenezer glide across the floor if he moves during it, but sometimes it stops him completely. I found it to be very inconsistent in that regard. Different weapons don’t help, in fact only making the animations worse by sort of covering up the original one with a large, independently-moving whip, axe, or something of the sort.

Having spirit children follow him at all times is some dark comedy that Ebenezer and the Invisible World never really acknowledges. Seeing this elderly man attack alongside a dead kid at the start is bizarre enough, but nothing tops the tiny, flying spirits of orphan children that can be attached to him. I could never get over that image, just truly gruesome stuff to have these souls be “gifted” by the three spirits from the original story when I think about it. All while the bland Christmas music hits its cheerful bells.

A screenshot showing the full hud and just how tiny it is
The HUD is unbearably tiny, and sometimes the enemies are too

The worst thing about Ebenezer and the Invisible World is its map. Traversing it in itself takes a long time due to its size, a lack of any significant upgrade to speed, and a scarcity of travel stations, but what makes it worse is the in-game representation of it. Each regular screen is represented by a nondescript rectangle, with exits marked on its perimeter. It never takes into account the layout of any individual room, at best marking different zones with colors.

A good map makes or breaks a metroidvania, and this one, unfortunately, breaks it. It feels like I wasted several hours of my time walking back and forth, defeating the same enemies in the same places over and over every time I wanted to save the game at one of the designated respawn spots. If I didn’t reach one, anything I collected up to that point would be gone.

A picture of the in-game map
The map is neither very helpful nor is it all that good-looking

But even with what felt like hours of destroying the same foes, I never managed to upgrade any one of my supporting attack ghosts, a feat that required a specific amount of killed enemies, nor did I have enough of the randomly dropped materials to upgrade my stats to the fullest. So much about this game is nothing more than unnecessary, tedious busywork.

This is a shame, because I think with a more focused experience, a more focused story about the humanity at display and the fascination created by its visuals (as opposed to finishing the story with an abruptly ended cutscene after the final boss), this could have been a truly special way to revisit a classic story, akin to the recent Lies of P. I do commend it for the parts it got right, like the neat idea and beautiful backgrounds, but with how dry everything else is, Ebenezer and the Invisible World is a tough sell.

Mateusz played Ebenezer and the Invisible World on PC with a review code. Ebenezer and the Invisible World is also available on the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S, Playstation 4, and Playstation 5.

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