Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has been one of our most reliable moral compasses for well over a hundred years, meaning, to anyone who’s even remotely familiar with the novella, if a video game adaptation of such a high-minded literary masterpiece were to happen, then its creators would treat it with an equal amount of respect and grace. Apparently, though, Play on Worlds’ Ebenezer and the Invisible World had another thing in mind. Sure enough, it more or less had the inspiration to emulate the literary marvel, and not to mention the assets to craft it into a compelling love letter to Dickens’ legacy. Question is, was it able to capture the spirit of Christmas in an industrialized London, or was it more, you know, bah humbug?
Before we go any deeper into the miser’s mind, I will say this: Ebenezer and the Invisible World wasn’t something that I had any intention of visiting. Having said that, when I did finally get ahold of the ambitious Metroidvania, I did find myself wondering whether or not it would do anything different to the standard formula.
It has been a good few days since I last saw the likes of Ebenezer and the Ghosts of Christmas in the ashen corridors of The Big Smoke, so in my mind, I can just about produce a few final touches from the journey. Care to tag along for the descent into 1840s London? Tiny Tim, take the wheel!
Welcome Back to London, Scrooge
Let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room for a second: Ebenezer and the Invisible World — it isn’t a cutesy third-person platforming game with all the same seasonal trimmings and festivities that you’d find in, I don’t know, The Grinch. Rather, it’s a side-scrolling 2D Metroidvania that’s loosely based on Charles Dickens’ beloved novella. Instead of being set on A Christmas Carol’s night of Christmas Eve, however, the game picks up several years after the shenanigans and moral dilemmas involving the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. As it turns out, in the aftermath of all that jazz, miser-turned-lover Ebenezer Scrooge discovered the power to see the lost souls of London who never escaped their former ghosts or shackles. So again, not exactly word-for-word.
Ebenezer and the Invisible World transports you to the center of a steampunk-inspired London—a world in which day-to-day operations go under the guidance of Caspar Malthus, a tyrannical industrialist who, like Ebenezer, received a late-night visit from the three Ghosts of Christmas. In spite of their best efforts to tweak the moral code, however, the Ghosts instead opened Caspar’s eyes to a future plot—an evil scheme that, if successful, would eradicate the poor folk of London for all eternity. In light of this, Caspar set out to chase the dream, so to speak, all in the hopes of ridding London of its working class citizens.
To bring you up to speed, the latest Metroidvania puts you in the shoes of a wiser, kinder, and more socially conscious Ebenezer Scrooge, who has taken it upon himself to confront Caspar Malthus, and drive a wedge between his plans to conquer the poorer boroughs of London.
Ebenezer and the Invisible World plays out like a traditional Metroidvania: you work your way through several 2D environments set out across a selection of districts, running, dipping, diving, and jumping. As a cane-wielding Scrooge, you also have the power to fight the goons that roam the streets, as well as harness unique abilities handed down to you by the numerous ghosts strewn around the city of London.
At face value, it’s almost impossible to slate the game, as it more or less ticks all the appropriate boxes to be considered a run-of-the-mill Metroidvania, complete with all the generic platforming and combat elements, to boot. And for the most part, that’s exactly what it is. However, due to its frequent technical bugs and game-breaking issues, it’s also a bit of a disappointment, to say the least — and in no way the sort of thing we’ve come to expect from such a high caliber genre.
While I was certainly able to sing a lot of the game’s praises during my dozen or so hours in the bustling city of London, I also couldn’t really shake off the fact that, in particular verses, I was struggling to stay on key. I felt frustrated a lot of the time, and it was mainly down to the fact that, while the story was compelling enough for me to keep moving forward, I couldn’t get through certain areas without having to overcome some form of technical barrier. And if the game wasn’t randomly crashing and hurling me back to the main menu, then it was grinding to a halt mid-conversation, or preventing me from acquiring a power that was needed to progress deeper into the story. It was during those moments that, annoyingly, I found myself muttering “bah humbug”, and not chiming into a chorus.
Merry Christmas, One and All
Don’t get me wrong, when Ebenezer and the Invisible World works, it works incredibly well. Combat-wise, the game is rather challenging, and not to mention littered with just enough moves and mechanics to give you the freedom to flex your skills and power moves. In a similar fashion to most Metroidvania titles, it grants you the ability to dash, glide, and whip your melee weapon around in any way you see fit. It’s an easy-to-digest banquet of goodies, and it’s a crying shame that, even at the best of times, such features fell victim to a treasure trove of technical errors and half-baked misfires.
When all’s said and done, you shouldn’t ever really exit a game feeling short-changed or the slightest bit disgruntled. Unfortunately, those are the exact things I came to feel towards the tipping point of the story. And it almost pains me to admit it, but after several hours of trucking through the same issues, I stopped caring for the positives, and was more focused on reaching the climax — if only to be able to close the book and be done with it all, once and for all. Merry Christmas — now close the shutters and leave me alone, London.
All in all, Ebenezer and the Invisible World should take you anywhere from thirteen to fourteen hours to beat. In my mind, though, it would’ve been a lot more appealing if it was seven, maybe even eight hours shorter. Again, it isn’t due to the concept being all that bad, but more the fact that, well, fifteen hours of sifting through hurdle after hurdle just isn’t all that great, nor is it something I’d be willing to scoot around at any point in the future, either.
Ebenezer and the Invisible World’s backdrop and traditional London aesthetics are certainly worth writing home about, I’ll give it that much. Having said that, its fancy hand-drawn art style doesn’t necessarily act as a counterweight for the slew of bugs and unresponsive triggers that Play on Worlds’ IP hosts by the baker’s dozen. It’s a shame, really, as the Metroidvania clearly has the heart and soul to be a genuinely fantastic and memorable game, but boy — it just doesn’t quite live up to the expectations that we’ve come to chalk up these past however many years.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a good game hidden somewhere beneath the woodwork here. In fact, it seems a good seven out of eight screws are already in place; it’s the remaining two or three that make it short of being a complete and structurally sound product. Knowing this, and how it isn’t quite as polished as it should be, it’s hard to recommend it in its current state. Will it be worth coming back to in 2024? Who knows. For what it’s worth though, I’d steer well clear of it until the final bolts have finally found their markers.
If you’re looking to delve into the beating heart of a Charles Dickens novel, then you could certainly do a lot worse than Play on Worlds’ Ebenezer and the Invisible World. Having said that, if you don’t mind waiting it out, at least until the creases are no longer visible, then I’d suggest coming back in a few months. If, however, you’re hell-bent on tucking into the Christmas festivities ahead of the winter holidays, then hey, I hear The Grinch: Christmas Adventures is something of a worthy substitute.
Ebenezer and the Invisible World Review (Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Switch & PC)
Bah Humbug, Bug.
Ebenezer and the Invisible World clearly has the potential to be a structurally sound Metroidvania. Unfortunately, due to its countless game-breaking bugs and performance issues, it’s hard to recommend it in its current state.