Earth Atlantis Review
Release Date: October 5, 2017
Developer: Pixel Perfex
Publisher: Headup Games
Platform: Nintendo Switch
At the end of the century, a climate shift causes 96 percent of the world to be flooded and underwater. The world's great cities and landmarks are no more than man-made reefs, and technology has melded with or evolved into deadly marine life. You are a "Hunter," out to take down the deadly monsters and make the ocean safe again.
While likely a bit more believable than Kevin Costner trading dirt and searching for dry land or gasoline, Earth Atlantis tasks you to man a submarine in a classic 2D style shooter. Enemies swarm from all directions as you traverse a maze of underwater tunnels to rid the seas of danger. As the game moves on, you will encounter gigantic beasts, often extreme versions of the smaller beasts you've taken down or different unique monstrosities. The game is a constant "boss rush" of sorts, as your map leads you through the maze to do battle with massive monsters, which causes new parts of the maze to open up, which then makes more boss enemies get tagged on the map. Your goal is to take down the 38 targets over the course of the game.
You start out with one of four ships unlocked, each of which have different armor/weapon/speed statistics and fire patterns. Your submarine starts out with a basic shot, but collecting powerup P icons you can improve your shots until you are a weapon of death. There are four other weapons (straight missles, homing missles, bouncing bombs, and an electric shock) that can be upgraded by collecting more of the same icon, but you can only hold one weapon at a time. A rudimentary map blips you in the right direction. Controls are simple, with a maneuvering stick, and two options for shoot or turn your ship around.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the game are the graphics. The game is rendered in brown parchment with sketchy black lines creating everything in the game. It looks like a cartographer's drawing come to life, as if a pirate had doodled in the margins of his math book. While absolutely beautiful, it does come with some flaws. The game shows depth by amount of shade: you can literally watch an enemy quickly swim off into the background. The sights you see back there are intimidating, often making you fear the giant in the distance will be the next monstrosity you face. Depth on in-game obstacles leaves something to be desired. There were times that what looked like a simple crack in a wall was really showing a new path to go down, and other times where I felt that I could get around a rock formation only to note that a barrier I thought was in the background is actually right next to you. As you go through the game, this isn't as much of a problem. You work in an area, treading back and forth, long enough to eventually have them memorized, but it can be annoying at first. The blending doesn't help when there's a lot of action on the screen, either, with explosions, enemies, your bullets, and enemy fire all being sketched with the same colors, as your (and your enemies') bullets start bouncing off of walls and intermixing with each other. I'd like to hear the opinion of a person who is color blind or has difficulty seeing on playing this game. It's quite beautiful, but you have to pay attention as the game pounds more and more enemies at you.
The enemies are relentless, too. Clearing out an area means nothing, as turning around and going back the way you came often finds a whole new slew of robofish to vaporize. This can be fun if you're looking for action, but a little more frustrating if you are looking for powerups. Each time you die, continuing knocks you down to your original pea shooter. A couple of times in my play I found myself up against a boss that could one-hit kill me, and I needed extra firepower to take them down. With them being between me and progress, I would pound through enemies for fifteen minutes, get to the (random) boxes, look for the powerup I want, then roll the dice for a few more powerups in the hopes I could upgrade instead of getting a different one, then take on the boss only to get trounced on one-hit. I do understand the innate difficulty of "bullet hell" style games, but not providing a safe haven or at least a cache of weapons to choose from at the entrance to a boss' lair when you have to navigate a maze just to find powerups feels cheap.
Earth Atlantis is much more than it seems at first. A little bit bullet-hell shooter, a dash of Mega Man, and a taste of Shadow of the Colossus mix together to make a fun, addictive game. In my impressions so far, I've bounced between marveling at the unique graphics and being frustrated at their blandness, and enjoyed pressing forward to new adventures whilst being annoyed at backtracking and rolling the dice at finding the perfect weapon to take down the next boss. I do read that as of October 9th (when I am writing this review) that an update is coming "soon" that will make it "quicker and easier to get weapons back." Given that this is the biggest beef I have with the game, I look forward to that update. If they can make it easier to get back to full firepower, it will be that much less annoying to take on bosses that can kill you with one well-timed attack. With that improvement promised, it easily kicks my final review score up a notch.
-Tight, simple, responsive controls that cater to trigger fingers or classic button gameplay
-Numerous intense boss battles
-Backtracking to get power ups (reported to be patched in some way soon)
-Weapons, enemies, good and bad projectiles can muddle together due to the monochromatic graphics
-The general slow speed of a submarine going through a maze can make some battles feel as if they take longer than they should
Special thanks to Headup Games and Pixel Perfex for providing a code for review.