A bold new take on a Dickensian classic debuted during this year’s PC Gaming Show. Ebenezer and the Invisible World is a hand-drawn metroidvania that stars a much-less-miserly Scrooge, already changed by the spectral visits he experienced during the events of the famous book.
In this delightful interpretation, Ebenezer, or Punished Scrooge, if you will, is an ass-kicking, cane-thwacking anime protagonist backed up by an army of friendly ghosts. By completing personal quests for these phantoms, the formerly grumpy old codger can unlock their unique abilities to solve platforming puzzles and bring the smackdown on wealthy industrialists and their boot-licking goons, as well as the unrepentant ghosts haunting Victorian-era London.
And no, I have not been at the Christmas brandy.
Ebenezer and the Invisible World is coming later this year to PC, but the trailer revealed that you could go hands-on with it right away by checking out the free demo currently available on Steam. It's a classic, ability-gated metroidvania with plenty of quirky twists up its sleeve, like chowing on turkeys and mashed potatoes to restore health and collecting coal and sand to use as upgrade materials. Ghosts are used like summons in Marvel Vs Capcom—leveraged to perform devastating quickfire uppercuts or downward kicks that can double as movement abilities, allowing you to reach new areas.
As you journey through scenes of a bustling, snowy London, you’ll unravel the threat of the Malthus family (Google 'Malthusianism' for a history lesson), greedy industrialists who wish to render the working class, who they call ‘the surplus population’ irrelevant by any means necessary. As such, Scrooge will beat up steampunk strike busters and protect journalists' who are writing exposés.
The idea for Ebenezer and the invisible world comes from a key quote in A Christmas Carol: 'The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went. [...] The misery with them all was that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters and had lost the power forever.'
"Dickens suggested a world filled with ghosts who only want to help others but cannot because they did not take the opportunity to help others in life. We thought, what if Ebenezer helped these people on behalf of the ghosts?” creative director and producer Carlos Martin says. "Taking this idea further, what if each of those ghosts could join Ebenezer with a unique ability or power and reveal a unique backstory about their past lives."
Though, to match that exuberant new mission for Scrooge, the team didn't want to slavishly copy the crotchety old dude from Dickens’s book. During pre-production, Orbit Studio had imagined a limber hero parkouring across London's rooftops and going toe-to-toe with ghosts and goons. "We needed our lead to be credible when performing these supernatural feats, and 'Yass' Ebenezer was born," Martin says.
"We feel players will embrace this new Ebenezer with open arms. The older gentleman fighter has become popular in recent years with characters like Harry Hart from Kingsman and even actors like Keanu Reeves with John Wick. We actually looked up Ebenezer Scrooge's age and learned he was written as a man in his 50s, which by today’s standards isn’t such an old man."
This new, yassified Scrooge is rendered in meticulous detail by the game's unique art style, which uses frame-by-frame coloring and animations assembled by a team of over 20 artists. The developers referenced hand-drawn Disney animation and cult classic animated movies like Treasure Planet and Anastasia.
You can see this aesthetic in the ghosts spread across the game too, who range from harpoonists to railroaders and trapeze artists. Orbit Studio tried to balance offering unique gameplay mechanics through the apparitions while maintaining authenticity to the period and the book.
Something that was present in the book and remains current 180 years later is how big business treats workers. "The story was written during the Industrial Revolution, where work had transitioned from agriculture and trade apprenticeships to factory workers performing grueling and sometimes menial tasks en masse," Martin says. That same fear and threat of automation to workers is present today; in fact, it may be getting worse.
"For the most part, these fears have been limited to manual work," Martin says. "Office labor has been almost immune to threats of automation. That has all changed in the last few years with the advancement of AI. With AI, such as Chat GPT and others, there are now fears that office jobs may now be eliminated, and office workers may face similar displacement as manual workers over the past decades.
"We explore this concept of automation and worker displacement in the game. London is on the brink of chaos. Protesters are assembling to protect their rights as workers after they have been replaced by technology, leaving most without money to feed themselves or their families. Their survival is in peril. There is an expression, 'history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes'; our story about the rights and conditions of workers is both old and modern."