Review – EarthNight

EarthNight was one of the most pleasant surprises back at E3 2019. I knew very little about that game prior to testing it, and was captivated by its fantastic production values and interesting take on the roguelike genre. A small indie title made by half a dozen people ended up being one of my favorite games from the show and one I’ve been salivating for ever since. The game is finally out, on the Switch as well (it was originally planned for PC, mobile and PS4), and here’s my take on it.

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You almost feel bad for having to kill such gorgeous creatures.

As previously mentioned in my E3 preview, EarthNight is an odd chimera that mixes side-scrolling platforming with auto-running and roguelike elements. Your objective is to control one of two distinct characters, run on top of gigantic dragons, defeat enemies that are hitching a ride on their backs, collect loot, and finish your run by trying to murder said dragons by stabbing them on the head just like you’d do in Shadow of the Colossus. You have a limited amount of time to perform those head stabs, so you’ll have to time your charged attacks precisely, or else you’ll proceed to the next run without getting a dragon’s fang, the game’s most prized possession.

The more “fangs” you collect, the more items you’ll be able to unlock on your next runs, such as swords and double jump boots. The sword is a vital item, especially if you select the character named Stanley, as he isn’t able to naturally attack enemies by running onto them. By grabbing a sword, you’ll be able to do so with a handful of different enemies, with the game highlighting those who can and cannot be killed this way. Those items are just temporary buffs, so you’ll need to find them throughout the levels in order to use them. You can also upgrade every item in the game by collecting pieces of random loot scattered throughout the levels, and paying a randomized fee with them. That’s the core gameplay loop of EarthNight in a nutshell. It’s easy to grasp and it’s addictive, just like it was back at E3.

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Diving straight onto a new dragon, if the long loading times allowed me to.

While EarthNight‘s gameplay is great, its artistic presentation is even better. This game is pure visual and auditory bliss. Every single character, dragon, background and random asset was drawn and animated by hand. Everything in that game looks amazing, especially the dragons. They are gigantic and majestic. EarthNight also features some neat parallax scrolling effects that improve the overall sense of depth.

The soundtrack is another highlight. Every single tune is catchy like industrial glue, featuring a mix between chiptune melodies and instrumental rock textures. The songs are upbeat and cheerful when you’re running through a level, epic and serious when you’re fighting a dragon, and blissful when you’re falling down the sky, looking for your next scaled victim. The soundtrack is excruciatingly loud, however, but it’s amazing nonetheless.

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It starts off simply enough, with just a few enemies onscreen and a stable framerate.

With that being said, I need to say something from the bottom of my heart: EarthNight still managed to disappoint me, and I’ll tell you why. I played the Switch version of the game, something that, way back at E3, didn’t even have a proper release date, nor plans to be released alongside the PS4 and PC versions. This version is completely plagued by severe technical problems which completely hindered my overall experience with it. Loading times are also unforgivingly long, but they aren’t the biggest issue plaguing this specific version.

The framerate is the big offender. Back at E3, I played the unfinished PS4 build and it ran perfectly. A juicy and stable 60 frames per second at all times, even when there was a lot of chaos ensuing onscreen. That’s not the case in here. Whether you’re playing EarthNight in portable or docked mode, the framerate drops to the low teens whenever there’s a lot of action onscreen, which occurs pretty frequently. The framerate stutters are so bad that they completely hinder the gameplay, as the controls become unresponsive as a result. The game is also hindered by the fact that, due to the camera being positioned somewhat near your main character, you can’t properly see what’s in front of you, resulting in a lot of leaps of faith. Add the bad framerate to the mix and you can imagine my occasional bouts of frustration while playing the game, especially in later stages.

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Look at these enemies!

EarthNight could have been a very strong contender for my favorite indie game of the year if the Switch version wasn’t so plagued with technical issues that completely hindered the gameplay and my overall enjoyment. It is gorgeous, it features a fantastic soundtrack, and its gameplay loop is unique and very addictive. But either it lacked some extra refinement or the Switch’s hardware just can’t stand its visuals and amount of particles. Maybe they’ll patch it and make it smoother and more enjoyable. As of now, it’s still a great game, but I would recommend grabbing the PS4 version instead.

 

Graphics: 8.5

EarthNight is a gorgeous game with hand drawn graphics and fantastic animations, but its framerate is very unstable on the Switch.

Gameplay: 7.5

The simple and potentially addictive mixture of 2D platforming and roguelike elements is interesting, but it is hindered by several leaps of faith and severe framerate issues.

Sound: 9.5

The soundtrack is comprised of chiptune effects and modern rock instrumentation. It’s excruciatingly loud, but it’s amazing nonetheless.

Fun Factor: 8.0

EarthNight features a nice gameplay loop, a great progression system, and amazing visuals, but I got tired of it after a while, mostly due to how long the loading times were, as well as the aforementioned bad framerate.

Final Verdict: 8.0

EarthNight is available now on PS4, Switch and PC.

Reviewed on Switch.

A copy of EarthNight was provided by the publisher.

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