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Earth Atlantis

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Headup Games
Developer: Pixel Perfex
Release Date: Oct. 5, 2017


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Switch Review - 'Earth Atlantis'

by Cody Medellin on Jan. 9, 2018 @ 1:45 a.m. PST

Earth Atlantis is a retro shooter with a unique “old sketching” visual style.

The first year of the Nintendo Switch's life has proven that it's a good home for traditional shooting fans. New stuff like Graceful Explosion Machine, recent titles like Sine Mora EX, redone classics like Strikers 1945, and the slew of Neo Geo classics from Hamster all make the system highly desirable for those who have embraced the system's philosophy of using one machine for gaming both at home and on the go. Earth Atlantis marks the latest shooter on the platform, and aside from having the honor of debuting on the Switch before heading to other platforms, it also happens to be a shooter with more of an adventure slant.

The story feels like a mix of Horizon: Zero Dawn and "Waterworld." In the future, The Great Climate Change has caused Earth to be covered almost completely in water. While the human population has diminished greatly but learned to live in these watery conditions, the machines have begun to adapt to their new surroundings, taking on the form of sea creatures and terrorizing any humans in their vicinity. As a submarine captain, you hear the distress calls of some people who are caught up in the latest robotic attack, and you take it upon yourself to rid the oceans of the leviathans.

The game can be mostly thought of as one open adventure level that is gradually unlocked as you progress. You start by choosing one of four submarines (one available from the start and the others are unlocked after beating the game subsequent times), each differing in armor, firepower, maximum firing patterns, and speed. From there, you're dumped into the ocean, and since your initial guns are fairly weak, you'll try to kill smaller fish to spawn power-up spheres in order to level up your guns. You'll also seek out different power-ups like bouncing mines, dumb missiles, electric discharges, and seeking missiles, and they can all be leveled up as long as you keep collecting that same weapon type. Once you have what you need, you can seek out one of the 38 leviathans, and besting it in combat means breaking apart some of the stage to open up more areas to explore.

As far as the shooting goes, it can get quite frantic for a game that isn't necessarily classified as a "bullet hell" shooter. Part of that comes from the fact that you are almost always swarmed with enemies. The variety of enemies ranges from small fish that can be killed with just one hit to larger fish that fire back. Some will launch spikes when they explode, while others fire a volley of bouncing spiked mines if you don't kill them fast enough. No matter what, you'll face large chunks of them at a time, and it can get crowded enough that you may find it difficult to maneuver between them unless you have the right firepower to quickly clear out the crowds.

The level design makes things difficult because it trades out wide spaces for twisting corridors. The rock formations are easy to distinguish, with several paths leading you to dead ends and narrow spaces that are perfect spots for getting ambushed. Meanwhile, large chunks of steel create their own choke points while reminding you of the world's sunken state. Seeing the Statue of Liberty in the background, for example, is supposed to evoke feelings of the end of "Planet of the Apes," but it can also be sobering to see a bus act as a barrier. No matter which surface you encounter, nothing in the environment can be destroyed with weapons, so your pathways are immutable.

For the level design, there are far too many places where the metal girders that constitute the level layout and the foreground metal, which is used for atmosphere, are indistinguishable from one another. Once you discover that some pathways are safe to travel through while others are barriers, you'll spend a good chunk of your time hugging every piece of metal you can find to discover what's what. Also, having numerous enemies on-screen is fine, as it gives you plenty of targets to shoot at and good opportunities to get yourself to the max level. However, the respawn rates can be borderline ridiculous, as moving only a few feet can give you a new horde exctly where you had just destroyed the old one.

In Earth Atlantis, the radar only tracks yourself, the leviathans, and the various crates that hold power-ups. It would be ridiculous track the numerous other enemies, but it would've been nice to have a layout of the stage, especially when you consider how difficult it can be to discern what is and isn't passable. The radar shows that power-up locations are both limited and random in nature. Fewer than 10 power-ups seem to be in the world at any time, but uncovering one immediately puts another one in a different random spot. If you're trying to power up one ability, this can be good if you don't mind constantly going back and forth on the random chance that the ability you need is present. The leviathans also take on that random placement nature, but they only show up in sets of two or three at time. The encounters are also fascinating, since there's a wide variety that can be encountered. Some are large monsters with hellacious attack patterns, and a number of leviathans are simply larger and stronger swarms of otherwise smaller creatures.

The leviathan battles are the real focus, but the skirmishes lose some luster in a few ways. Notably, you'll rarely get into a situation where you'll see the whole creature for long periods of time. You'll be bobbing and weaving through so many projectiles that your shots will be blind, and by the time you see the leviathan, it'll most likely be during its explosion phase, which doesn't feel very exciting since it dies like any other creatures, with one large semi-quick explosion; you receive a decent health refill and one special weapon power-up for your troubles. The real reward for leviathan deaths is the opening of new areas, but it's disappointing that some areas that are opened up turn out to be dead ends.

The game is an enjoyable challenge, since the action is constant, there aren't any lulls for prolonged periods of time, and the boss fights are tough as nails. Having said that, Earth Atlantis is certainly designed for the Switch's portable mode rather than dedicated home play. It doesn't take very long to get yourself up to a max level, and bosses are so close to one another that it doesn't take much effort to find one. Death is easy to come by, and since you start at the base weapon levels with every new life, you may not want to keep going after a few lost lives. Luckily, all of the boss progress is saved, and since the gameplay rarely changes from one boss encounter to another, playing it in spurts is recommended if you don't want to burn out on the game quickly.

There's really not much to the post-game once you beat it for the first time. As mentioned earlier, beating the game gives you access to a new submarine each time, and that makes the experience easier the next time around — unless you bump up the difficulty. Hunter mode is essentially a boss rush mode, as you have to see how far you can go in just one life. Finally, there is a list of the bosses you've already vanquished, but since you can't enlarge their illustrations or get more info on them, the section is practically useless.

The overall art style is impressive. Done up in a style similar to illustrations in old novels, the animations have a distinct appearance, and the backgrounds and the creatures exhibit plenty of detail, even with the limited color palette. The only issue comes from some of the white lasers that enemies emit, as they can be hard to see even if you're close to the screen. Elsewhere, the frame rate holds up well enough when a ton of enemies are on-screen, and the game's music does a good job of promoting that theme of constant combat and exploration.

Earth Atlantis is a game that is best played if you pace yourself. The quick boss encounters and ease with which you can find enemy mobs makes for some frantic gaming, but that high frequency also means that the experience can get repetitive. The overall mechanics are good, and the look is certainly distinct. It differs enough from normal shooters that it's worth a look, especially if you want a more exploratory adventure to go with your shooting.

Score: 7.0/10

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