Earth Atlantis (Switch) review
"Earth Atlantis is more interesting than it looks, but unfortunately is also less accessible than it ought to be."
At a glance, Earth Atlantis looks like a traditional horizontal shooter. There is nothing to suggest otherwise, just going off the screenshots. The reality, though, is that the game has a bit more freedom in mind. You can roam up and down, left and right... anywhere the winding corridors allow. And then you can face off against a boss and die. After all, there is such a thing as too much freedom.
As the story goes, mankind did a horrible job of responding to the global warming crisis. The result, a little more than 100 years into the future, is a planet that is 96% immersed in water. There aren't a lot of people left, as you can imagine, and those who remain are at odds with enormous sea creatures. Venturing into the submerged world is suicide, and that would be true even if there weren't swarms of pirate ships looking to add to their tally of victims. But of course there are pirates. Lots of them, even.
The game begins by letting players choose from one of four ships. Each ship possesses slightly different attributes, and the ability to power up by collecting icons that randomly appear when some enemies are defeated. The default ship is capable of firing bursts to the left and right, and possesses moderate power and speed. The three more interesting ships can fire in all sorts of directions and may have other enhancements. You won't get to use them for a long time, though, so you might as well just pretend they don't exist.
Once you have "selected" your ship, you immediately take to the sea. There you will notice what is evident in the screenshots: an almost complete lack of color. The game's artists elected to go the monochrome route, and they really committed to it. If the environments and enemies weren't rendered in such detail, you might almost think you were playing unoriginal Game Boy game. This is disappointing on the one hand, because a video game ocean can be a beautiful sight with the right palette in place. However, the approach did allow the developers to get creative. As you explore the map, you need to pay attention to movements in the background, since enemies are often visible there as they approach or retreat. Rocky formations also warrant your attention, because they could hide shelled enemies that like to blast you the moment you let yourself become distracted.
The Earth Atlantis map gradually expands as you triumph over nature. You gain access to numerous corridors crowded with supply barrels (which hold useful peripheral weapons such as homing missiles and electrical shocks) and swarming with enemies. A radar map is a button press away, but it doesn't detail the available spaces through which you can pass, only the general location of loot and boss battles in relation to your current position. Your best bet is simply to memorize the maze-like environment, a task made easier by the fact that you'll spend so much time crisscrossing it as the campaign develops.
Although much your time is devoted to exploration, the real bursts of activity are the ones that matter most. The game features nearly 40 boss battles, and those become available one or two at a time. Each monstrosity you send to a watery grave opens a new route to explore, and the ultimate goal is always to find and defeat another boss. For that reason, Earth Atlantis feels like an extended boss rush mode with the exploration serving almost exclusively as filler.
Bosses are huge, and the majority of them are extremely difficult to conquer, even on the easiest setting. A bump or two from a rampaging foe is enough to kill you, even if you arrive on the scene with a full life meter. Your chance at long-term survival is further reduced by the waves of shrapnel and ammunition that litter the screen at any given moment. And your nemesis has a life meter much longer than your own, one that drains at a snail's pace even if you risk everything and foolishly attempt a frontal assault. This is a game that eats the brave for breakfast.
The difficulty of those boss encounters becomes a real problem because it forces players to waste entirely too much time bulking up for another run at an overpowered adversary. If you get stuck trying to eliminate a particularly troublesome foe, look forward to spending the overwhelming majority of your time just traveling back and forth, trying to get power-ups to drop. There are rare checkpoint buoys so at least you don't always have to cross the entirety of the available map to give the typical boss battle another attempt, but you still have to roam around a lot following each failure. It's like grinding in an RPG, only worse because any gains you make are so short-lived. This setup raises the stakes nicely enough, but also drags out the experience so that it feels more like a chore than proper entertainment.
Pixel Perfex and Headup Games deserve credit for trying something different with Earth Atlantis, even though the end result is less than ideal. There's no telling whether the game will receive future balance updates to make it a bit more accessible, but as things stand, it's too repetitive and merciless for its own good. Genre veterans should probably pay attention in spite of or perhaps even because of those qualities, but everyone else is advised to proceed with caution. There's a worthwhile game here, but you have to work a little too hard to crack its shell and get at the good stuff.
Staff review by Jason Venter (October 12, 2017)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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