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Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Cleaversoft
Release Date: Dec. 3, 2019

About Joseph Doyle

Joe has been known to have two hands with which to both play games and write reviews. When his hands are not doing those, he will put books, musical instruments, and other fun things in them.


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Switch Review - 'EarthNight'

by Joseph Doyle on Feb. 19, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

EarthNight is a hand-painted runner about the dragon apocalypse featuring hand designed procedurally generated levels.

All right, let's refer to the checklist. Dragons? Check. Space? Check. Fighting to save the Earth and what's left of humanity? Check! EarthNight is all of this and more. Who could want anything more than to fight space dragons? Perhaps you'd want to be one — but I digress. Cleaversoft knows exactly who wants to play its game, and it corners the market for the dreamy, sensational and weird. Featuring hand-drawn art, (inter)stellar music, and generally compelling gameplay, EarthNight is certainly an interesting title.

EarthNight's gameplay is a hybrid between an endless runner and the 2D Sonic the Hedgehog titles. Tasked with saving the Earth, you choose to play as either Stanley or Sydney, running vast lengths across the backs of gliding, swirling dragons while you kill minions and collect loot. It culminates in either a defeat of the beast or being bucked from its back.

The depth of the game is more than you'd expect at first glance, as it also features a crafting system based on different items that you collect from the backs of different-colored dragons. All the while, you're also collecting more water to upgrade the power-ups that you collect on your runs. From swords to double-jump boots and more, this aspect is what keeps players on their toes. It's incredibly refreshing and creates more motivation for the player to keep going.

Another aspect of EarthNight that's both cool and infuriating (in a positive way) is the character selection. Stanley and Sydney have very different play styles, challenging the player to adapt their interpretation of the game in real time. All in all, there's a laudable level of detail in the gameplay.

This doesn't mean that the game is without its faults, though. For example, while it is incredibly easy to pick up and play EarthNight, it is incredibly tough on the beginner player. The act of jumping on and killing enemies is too precise for a game that constantly pushes you forward, leading you to either launch yourself way past who you wanted to kill, or cutting your jump too short and opening yourself up to damage. While the power-ups help with these difficulties, it's awfully annoying to lose health simply because you were too high up in the air to see the ground, where the enemies are.

Further, the game feels a little too floaty in general. Yes, I know that it takes place in space, and I appreciate that aspect of realism, but it makes it incredibly difficult to achieve the combos (chaining jumping from enemy to enemy) that you need to survive. Finally, killing the dragon at the end of the level is incredibly challenging, even with the right timing. While this is abated by collecting certain items in your run, they're not easy to find or collect, speaking to the aforementioned difficulty in controlling the character. Perhaps the solution to these issues is to get good, but that tack feels a little too dismissive. It warrants some — but not too much — tightening of the controls.

The aesthetics featured in EarthNight are interesting and well done, but they feel somewhat confused at points. For example, the characters and most of the settings look akin to games like The Adventure Pals and Castle Crashers, and they look pretty solid. Everything appears hand-drawn, and the way that everything moves kind of reminds me of animated storybooks. A lot of work must have gone into creating all aspects of this game, and it shows.

The consistency is somewhat confusing, though. For example, Sydney looks like she belongs in a Margaret Keane painting, whereas Stanley looks plucked out of a Scribblenauts game. Some of the pieces of the game are 2D, while others flaunt their third. I will concede that this does make them incredibly distinct and therefore memorable characters and game segments. For each procedurally generated level, we can choose to play as either Stanley, the bearded white guy, or Sydney, a black girl; it's great to see some diversity in the playable protagonist.

Beyond that, the details on the dragons make them look truly grimacing. The enemies are somewhat forgettable, and the items you collect get completely lost on the screen and look pretty simplistic. While the use of the art is a mixed bag, the effort shines through and creates a sort of charm for itself. In what other character select screens do you see one character entranced on an iPad while the other polishes a sword? Don't get me started on the backgrounds and skydiving art; they're all beautiful, dreamy and surreal works of art. That level of depth in the art, character, and world building is incredibly cool and appreciated, even when it's a little misplaced.

For primarily chiptune music, EarthNight features a robust, dynamic soundtrack. Fast-paced for the most part, the crunches of synthesizers rule these pieces, used to either lull the player to peace during the skydiving sections, amp them up during the running sections, or intimidate during the boss battles. The themes used throughout are catchy and used in pretty fun ways. For example, the track that plays during the first set of levels is called "Little Computer People," which features a fun, jaunty melody. This same melody is then turned around by being both pitched and slowed down into an elevator music-esque trance for the shop in the game. It's a fun, easy way of giving the game more identity and unity. The only drawback I can think of is the repetitive aspect of the music. Until you reach the next section of the game, every dragon you run on uses the exact same music, which can work in some games, but not for one that uses such distinct instrumentation and relatively monotonous gameplay. From the action-packed bits to the dreamy, sweeping tunes used in the game, EarthNight features some pretty good audio that feels right at home in a video game.

After all is said and done, EarthNight is an incredibly intriguing game. With in-depth art, consistently good music, and plenty of in-game systems to keep the player asking for more, it's hard to not want to give it a try. The follies of the title largely boil down to buy-in from the player. One could easily see a player losing interest early on due to the too delayed gratification of grinding through levels to collect all of the pieces needed for a power-up to progress. After seeing how the game evolves, I have to say that it's worth the time investment. EarthNight scrapes against greatness in its concept but falls slightly short in execution — not with the space dragons, though. I fully plan to execute all of the space dragons that I can get my hands on.

Score: 7.5/10

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