[REVIEW] The Eternal Cylinder – Keep on rollin’

Imagine being born into a world where death is right behind you. Everything you see is moments away from being eradicated and all you can do is run for your life. No help, no wise words from your parents, no nothing. It’s just you against this pending doom. Now imagine going through all that as a bipedal crossbreed between a shaven ballsack and a baby elephant. Got the mental picture? That’s pretty much what you’ll be facing in The Eternal Cylinder.

Right, let’s get one thing clear first. The Eternal Cylinder might not be what you think it to be. Believe me, I was expecting something different entirely before I got into it. Forget the idea that you’re going to be playing this surreal 3D platformer. The Eternal Cylinder is all about surviving by making sure you won’t get squashed by a massive steamroller.

You are a newborn Trebhum, a tiny bipedal creature with only one skill: sucking. I know, kinda sucks (Trebum-tss). This cute little critter has got little to no time to soak in the wonderful world around it. As the soothing narration will explain, the titular eternal cylinder will stop at (almost) nothing. Making sure you won’t end up underneath it is your top priority.

Luckily, the Trebhum have an ace in the hole. By inhaling specific resources, these trunk-nosed scrotums on legs can acquire the gift of mutation. Like Kirby, just uglier. Mutating is paramount in The Eternal Cylinder, as it will drastically increase your chance of survival. If there are trials ahead that seem impossible to complete, there’s probably some nutrient around that’ll grant you the mutation to make it through.

Now, you might ask yourself how you’ll be able to figure out what’s what when you’re being chased by this oversized rolling pin. The answer is simple: by stopping that rolling pin. Even though the cylinder might be eternal, there are ways to stop it for a moment. By passing a big-ass tower, the cylinder stops in its tracks until a highly visible wall of energy gets breached. Once you’re in the clear, you’re free to explore the beautiful yet surreal world around you.

During this time of exploration, you’ll probably run into other Trebhum waiting to be freed. This freeing of your brethren usually takes a little bit of basic platforming and puzzling, but nothing too taxing. Expanding your entourage grants you the ability to respawn as one of them when you do bite the bullet. But it also allows you to harvest more resources, as a tiny Trebhum can only carry a certain amount. The bigger your posse, the more chance you get at staying alive.

And let me tell you, staying alive eventually takes some effort. Trebhum might be cute and tiny, but they have a hell of an appetite. Running from a gigantic cylinder costs a lot of energy. That energy needs to be replenished by hoovering up anything edible. So you’re not just running from this world-sized death trap, but you’re also tasked with keeping your tribe fed without being eaten yourself. I know, it’s a drag.

To be honest, I totally would have dropped this game if it weren’t for one thing: it’s absolutely mesmerizing. Running or rolling through this apocalyptic world feels like watching a Dali painting on acid. This – of course – was to be expected from developer ACE Team, the Chilean studio that also brought us Rock of Ages. Absurdity is hardwired in their DNA and The Eternal Cylinder is proof of that once more. But it is this wonderful absurdity that saves the game in many places. Even though The Eternal Cylinder excels in telling an interesting tale about this tiny creature with a big part in this world’s history, it also falters when it comes to things like controls.

For a species on the brink of total destruction, Trebhum can be a bitch to control and manage. They sometimes feel a little floaty and hard to maneuver, especially when precision is required. Making sure everyone keeps their stomach filled – something you’ll have to check frequently – can also feel like a hassle. Luckily, the Trebhum fellowship follows you around neatly without getting in one’s way. You won’t have to worry too much about them as you go. If they get stuck between a rock and a hard place, they’ll find their way back to you without too much trouble. You won’t have to stick your neck out to go and save them from something with teeth, which is great because you don’t actually have a neck, to begin with.

Then there’s one last thing to talk about. The Eternal Cylinder – which revolves around surviving day in day out – might come across as being too easy. The narrator is pretty magnanimous when it comes to handing out hints and the feeling of having to fight for survival might not hit you straight away. This is mostly caused by the lack of real threats and the plethora of sustenance. If that’s the general feeling you’re getting, you haven’t played The Eternal Cylinder long enough. Just wait for the environment to change and you’ll regret not taking the time to experiment and upgrade your perks.

At the end of the line, The Eternal Cylinder can be described as a game that takes some getting used to. ACE Team’s survival adventure definitely isn’t going to be for everyone, especially if you’re looking for your standard 3D platformer. The stunning visuals might strike you at first, but if you’re not in the mood for micromanaging hard-to-control beasties, you might get disappointed. If you are the kind of gamer that feels like going on an acid trip, flinging Trebhum trunk like a toddler and his ding-dong, while running from an enormous cylinder, step right up. See how long it takes before the world wipes you out.

A quirky acid trip for a selected tribe
The Nutricious
The ever destructive world is pretty damn mesmerizing
The narration is spot-on, even if it's way too generous with hints
You can play with your trunk in public
Non-controlled tribe members aren't a total pain in the pee-pee
The Lethal
Trebhum are notoriously hard to manoeuvre when things require precision
The gameplay can be too forgiving for some
Micromanaging the herd can be a bit of a hassle