Earth Atlantis left me feeling frustrated. Frustrated not just because of the game’s brutal difficulty, but also because that somewhere among the laborious power up grinding, inconsistent difficulty, and samey (if unique) visuals, there is the potential for this to be decent little shooter.
But let’s back up. The story in Earth Atlantis is mercifully brief. Due to an event known as ‘The Great Climate Shift’, 96% of the earth has been left underwater, and is populated by savage creative/machine hybrid monsters. As well as re-spawning cannon-fodder enemies, the game features 20+ bosses, that you must hunt down and destroy in your tiny submarine.
I interviewed Earth Atlantis’s director Anucha Aribarg a few months ago, who set up the interesting premise of a mix between Gradius-style side-scrolling shooting with Monster Hunter-style exploration and boss slaying. While on the surface this does seem like a pretty good explanation of the gameplay, in reality Earth Atlantis doesn’t understand why these classics are so engrossing, leaving a game that doesn’t really deliver on either the shooting or the boss hunting.
I felt the biggest fault of the game is unfortunately simple: boredom. Things start off well enough with the stunning, ancient sea chart-inspired graphics with beautiful parallax scrolling and genuinely interesting boss designs. But beyond the visual novelty, the gameplay loop of explore, kill enemies for power ups, kill boss, then repeat, felt so derivative.
Killing waves of re-spawning enemies never felt satisfying to me, and eventually just turned into a chore so that I could farm weapon upgrades – something I needed, as the bosses are pretty much impossible without them. I felt death to be particularly punishing as not only are the re-spawn points far and few between, but I was also stripped of all my power ups, meaning a good 10 minutes of farming before I could attempt a boss battle again.
As I mentioned before there is some good visual variety in the bosses, and I fought my way through everything from a Kraken to a giant three-headed serpent. Tactics for defeating them however are rarely varied, with their attack patterns generally being float around a bit before intermittently firing thunderbolts/rocks/missiles. I just felt there was nothing to learn and nothing to improve upon with each death, other than try again and hope I soak up less damage that last time. My ship felt too sluggish to skilfully dodge projectiles in true bullet-hell fashion, and each victory felt more like luck than something I had earned.
As a Metroidvania nut I hoped I could at last take solace in the exploration, but even there I was disappointed. The game’s purposely grainy aesthetic and two-tone colour palette makes it very hard to add visual variety to different locations. Varying enemies and terrain help a little, but generally I found it very difficult to know where I was. There is a map, but it literally only marks power ups and bosses (think a Zelda dungeon where you have the compass but not the map), making it essentially useless for navigating the long, samey-looking environments you’ll be exploring.
And while I’m nit picking, I’ll go on to say that there aren’t enough types of power ups, the one-track music becomes irritating after extending play sessions, and the practise of opening up new areas of the map after killing a boss without showing me where they had opened drove me crazy, leading to hours of fruitless backtracking to work out where I was supposed to go.
Overall, I really wanted to enjoy Earth Atlantis. The graphics are great and the concept is interesting, but a series of poor design decisions snuffs out any potential the game had, leaving a watered down shooter that feels just too shallow.
Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Pixel Perfect