Half Mag / Half Zine

Do you ever have that dream where a giant metal rolling pin is rumbling across the world, destroying everything in its path? You know, the dream where you’re a strange two-legged Spore creature which can change shape and gain abilities by inhaling other creatures through its trunk. The one with the red and purple alien planet, and the giant chattering teeth enemy, and the huge insect creatures. Oh, hang on a moment, it’s not a dream! Silly me. It’s a game: The Eternal Cylinder.

It’s a game by Chilean developer Ace Team, which burst onto the scene with the strikingly surreal Zeno Clash in 2009 (and then Rock of Ages after). Remember that? The Eternal Cylinder is so similar! It’s a kaleidoscopically colourful and bizarre world full of huge creatures a bit like snails and insects, and some I just have no idea what they’re supposed to be. But here they are, in a world of big stone towers and beams of light, and strange planets in the background. And dominating everything: a terrifyingly massive metal cylinder that moves.

This is how you wake up in the game. You are a small two-legged creature with a trunk and a grand purpose, you’re told, and the very second you come to life, you have to run from the cataclysmic cylinder rumbling behind you. We’re talking about a horizon-spanning thing here, which destroys absolutely anything in its path. You, a relative flea to its massiveness, do not stand a chance. Eventually, however, it stops, and when it does, you can begin nosing around.

I say ‘nosing’ because that is very much how you interact with the world: with your trunk. You can suck and you can blow, like a garden vacuum, and anything you inhale goes into your small inventory where, if you like, you can eat it. And this bit is vital, because not only do you need to eat, and to drink, but the things you eat can trigger mutations. Very early on you eat a glowing essence left by a grasshopper-like creature to mutate big, hoppy legs, which let you jump out of the place you’re trapped in.

You’ll turn yourself into all kinds of things. You’ll eat a cube to become square and fit through square-shaped holes. You’ll eat something to sprout grass from your head to attract flies. You’ll grow a huge tummy and be able to hold twice as much in your inventory, you’ll grow webbed feet to swim faster, and become an amphibian and never tire in water. You’ll mutate to have armour, you’ll mutate a third eye. You’ll mutate a lot! The kicker is that it’s not all cumulative and most mutations will override another one, so the trick is trying to have the right mutation for the job, particularly when you find followers and spread the mutations among them.

Reviving your species is part of the reason you’re exploring the world, I think, as well as to find out what why there’s a massive cylinder rolling around. You find your friends lying around, withered, and revive them using a kind of gem dust, and then they follow you. When they do, you can name them and individually control them, sucking some materials with one follower, and other materials with another follower, and you can vary their mutations to give you a nice, diverse spread. They’ll automatically follow you around, join you in spraying enemies with water, and seemingly stand where they’re told during puzzle moments, which is handy.

What it’s all building to, I don’t know, but there are ancient monuments you will find as you explore that are intune with your species, and that you can activate. The most important of these are the towers, which can halt the cylinder as long as you stay nearby. You won’t want to stay there forever, though, so there will always be a frantic dash – or, rather, a balled-up roll (achieved with a button press) – to the next one.

The longer you survive, the more will be explained by a narrator, and the more you’ll find. But the further you get, the more ferocious and hostile the creatures of the world will become, and the more harsh the environments can become, either hot or cold, prompting a layer of survival I haven’t really had to deal with yet. It’s a tease, though, of a complexity to come, and judging by the mutation menus and compendiums, there’s a deeper layer of strategy in the game lying in wait.

It’s this fullness, and the quality of the game, I’m particularly impressed by. The Eternal Cylinder doesn’t just present a wacky world, but a richly realised and frequently stunningly beautiful one. And then beneath that, pulling you in, is a powerful sense of intrigue at just what in the world is going on? Question is: how many tries will it take you to find out?