After I talked about Edmund McMillen's intruiging-but-flawed game Coil last month, I promised I'd say a few words about Aether, which I liked a lot more. JayIsGames have just gone and named it their Casual Adventure Game of the Year 2008 so I suppose now is a good time to ride the Media-Train to Consensus City.
Aether is really, really beautiful. Edmund teams up with the equally talented Tyler Glaiel to deliver a game about loneliness, introversion, exploration and adventure, all of which runs in your standard browser window. You control a boy and his squid-balloon on a mission to the depths of space to help out some emotionally-challenged anthropomorphised planets. Edmund's art is in fine form, understated but effective, and Tyler's piano soundtrack gets the emotional tone flowing from the first screen through to the end.
Unusually for one of Edmund's games, Aether features neither gory violence nor extensive body-horror. In Aether no one is getting raped or murdered, but people are discovering important lessons about life and experiencing simple coming-of-age fables. If you liked things like Gish and Meat Boy you might find Aether a little different, but it's all the better for that difference.
The whole game really feels like a single extended piece of mood-art, like I Wish I Were The Moon or Night Raveler. Its success is less about the story it tells and more to do with how you feel as you experience it. It's gamey enough to avoid alienating the very people most likely to play it, but arty enough to leave an impression long after you've forgotten every other Flash game you played that month.
You can play Aether at Armor Games or Kongregate, and as it will only take you about ten minutes to enjoy there's really no excuse to not.