Developer: Pixel Perfex
Publisher: Headup Games
Release Date: 05/10/2017
Format(s): Nintendo Switch
Ever since playing and loving The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human last year, I’ve been eagerly anticipating my next 2D deep-sea adventure. I’m also a sucker for quirky and unique visual styles, so naturally the sight of Earth Atlantis in Nintendo’s last ‘Nindies’ reveal really appealed to me.
Blending up constant boss battles with shoot ‘em up gameplay, Earth Atlantis offers an intriguing and challenging adventure that’ll push players’ survival skills to the limits. It’s a lot of fun to play too, though it does have some frustrating design issues that might cause quite a few annoyances along the way.
Earth Atlantis puts you in an Earth that has 96% of its land underwater following an event known as ‘The Great Climate Shift’ (god damn that global warming). All of the cities of the world have found themselves sunken under the sea and full to the brim with dangerous hybrids of sea creatures and machines. Not a pleasant place to live, then…
You take on the role of a hunter to has to vanquish these sea creatures in order to try and let human life thrive on Earth once more. It won’t be an easy task given the humungous size of your foes, but luckily you’ve got your trusty submarine to help you on your deadly adventure.
Earth Atlantis plays like a mixture of R-Type and a Metroidvania title, which is perfect for me seeing as I’m a big fan of both. This means exploring an almost open-world environment as you seek out your objectives (those aforementioned gigantic robot sea creatures) and then progressing through previously closed off areas after you’ve done so. You’ll shoot down plenty of smaller sea creatures along the way though, and earn the upgrades to your weaponry that are needed to take down those bigger beasts.
It’s all very simple in design, with even the shooting mechanics assigned to just the one button. This spices up a little depending on the upgrades you have for your ship though. Whilst you just shoot one bullet to begin with, it only takes an upgrade before you’re firing two, and then three, and then… you get the picture. You’ll even get a secondary weapon too, with your little submarine eventually turning into an enemy-killing powerhouse.
Everything works together nicely though, with the combination of shoot ‘em up combat and Metroidvania exploration coming together to make for some enjoyable gameplay. You have a neat little map on the corner of the screen to keep track of where you’re going too, so you’ll never get lost regardless of how open the deep sea can be at times.
The bulk of your time in Earth Atlantis will be spent taking on bosses, which is something I can appreciate – I’ve always loved games that feature showdowns against massive beasts and there are over twenty of them on offer here. Each boss encounter is cleverly designed and great to take on though, with them all offering a challenge that’s fair on the player but also very rewarding to conquer. Well… with the exception of a few anyway – let’s just say there are a couple of bosses later in the game who’ve got a few very nasty (one hit kill) tricks up their sleeve.
The only problem with the boss encounters is that when you die you lose all of the upgrades you obtained before taking them on. The checkpoint system in the game is typically fair so it’s easy enough to head back into the encounter, but you’ve got to go out of your way to earn all your upgrades again if you want any chance of beating them. Games that have a big focus on tricky boss encounters such as Dark Souls have a trial-and-error element to them where it’s easy to jump right back in and take on bosses almost immediately after being beaten, which allows the player to learn their weaknesses and slowly improve their chances of beating them. Being forced to spend a few minutes taking on smaller enemies and waiting for them to drop upgrades just broke the whole experience up for me. It’d put me in a situation during boss battles where rather than focusing on finding their weak spots and working out how to take them down, I’d instead be worried that they’d kill me and I’d have to find all the same upgrades all over again. It was a pain to say the least.
That being said, I suppose it also challenges the player to beat each boss on the first asking; something which isn’t actually impossible. There’s no denying that Earth Atlantis is tricky, but with patience and quick-thinking most bosses shouldn’t be too much of a problem to take out. Just know that when you lose, it can be an arduous task having to constantly get your submarine back to ship-shape in order to take them on again.
Besides the battles against the tricky gargantuan bosses, Earth Atlantis can be a difficult game at times anyway. The screen will fill up with enemies and their incoming projectiles, and with some narrow pathways to venture across you’ll often find yourself trapped with no way to escape. Some enemies actually blend in with the environment too (god damn hermit crabs), so you’ll often get caught out when you least expect it. It’s a satisfying difficulty though and actually feels fitting given that the game has plenty of shoot ‘em up elements to it – I mean, we all remember how tricky titles like R-Type and Ikaruga were in the old days, right?
Still, even with the decent challenge posed on the player in these sections, they felt a little bit like filler at times with no real variety on offer. The real meat and bones of Earth Atlantis is found in the boss battles, with the encounters with enemies in between feeling like simple expeditions to gather the upgrades you need rather than being intricate parts of the adventure itself. They’re not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but you’ll certainly start to feel a sense of familiarity in the sequences by the time you’ve defeated the first few bosses you come across.
One thing that’s easy to love about Earth Atlantis is its hand-drawn sketchbook visual style. It feels distinctly unique, especially in a world that would typically be full of wondrous blue colours, but it manages to work perfectly. In many ways, the sketchbook look to the game was befitting of the mechanical beasts you find yourself up against; it’s almost as if you’re looking at the ‘planning phases’ of beasts that were being designed by some intrepid inventor.
The only real flaw with the visual style was that it was a little limited in how much variety it could add to your surroundings. Don’t get me wrong, the sullen, sunken world that makes up the backdrop of Earth Atlantis looks fantastic, especially when you’re floating past a plethora of almost recognisable landmarks. It’s more a case of everything else feeling the same, with nothing about any part of the sea ever feeling overly unique from one area to the next. It’s never terrible, but it did add an extra sense of familiarity to the already repetitive nature of the game.
There were a lot of things I loved about Earth Atlantis, with its boss-rush focus, neat visual style, and shoot ‘em up mechanics floating my boat as far as gameplay is concerned. I just couldn’t help but to feel frustrated by the fact that every death resulted in the loss of all my upgrades – having to constantly recover them was never fun, but instead an annoying burden that made me curse every failure.
Whilst it was clearly an issue though, it didn’t do enough to make me stop enjoying the game. When it’s at its best and not punishing the player, Earth Atlantis’ challenging gameplay and intriguing world come together to make for a fun experience that will certainly keep you entertained throughout your fairly lengthy deep-sea adventure.