Ergaster and the Habilis is one of those unique, interesting games that could only exist as an indie. It’s a puzzle platformer with a simplified Lemmings for puzzles. This is a nice way of saying it’s a puzzle platformer that is 10% tutorial and 90% escort mission.
In this quirky indie title, you play as a caveman named Ergaster who must escort these odd creatures called lemmings the habilis to safety. You start alone in a cave with drawings on the walls that tell you which buttons do what, provided you’re playing on an Xbox 360 controller. This game hates keyboards. If you play on a keyboard, you must look up both the keyboard and game pad controls and memorise the corresponding buttons so you know what the walls are telling you, and don’t even think about rebinding the keys while you’re in the option menu. The options menu isn’t for rebinding keys; it’s for switching between a full screen mode that doesn’t work and a windowed mode that doesn’t work.
Like most escort missions, walking the habilis through stone-age Afro-Eurasia is more frustrating than hard. Ergaster can smack a habilis to make it sit down, stopping other habilis from walking past it. If you’ve played Lemmings, think of this as the block skill. Unfortunately, timing it is finicky. I’ve had many a habilis walk past their appointed protector and into a wall of spikes as Ergaster’s outstretched palm came down like a hammer upon the savannah grass. It also necessitates more waiting than I like in anything other than a stealth game because you have to wait for a habilis to show up before you can smack it. To make all this worse, there are no checkpoints, which means doing the easy and boring parts of the level over and over again until you make that jump you keep dying on. This increases iteration cycles, which is bad game design.
Despite all this, there is some fun to be had here. There are silex to collect, and it’s a lot of fun air dashing about to collect them all. It’s also surprisingly satisfying to air dash through a wall of prehistoric crates. It’s also interesting to play such a unique platformer. Unfortunately, Ergaster isn’t executed well enough for me to recommend it over other platformers like The Fourth Wall. If the idea of playing Lemmings as a caveman instead of a benevolent god appeals to you, go ahead and check out Ergaster and the Habilis.
This game was reviewed using a copy provided by the developer for that purpose.
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