Genre: 2D Platformer
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Official Site: https://www.cleaversoft.com/
Release Date: December 3, 2019
Where to Buy: The Nintendo E-shop, Apple Arcade, and Steam
Let me preface this review by stating I’m not the biggest fan of 2D platformers. I will almost always choose a sub-par 3D environment over a great 2D platformer. Due to this, I’ve missed out on a handful of critically acclaimed games such as Hollow Knight, Super Meat Boy, and Shovel Knight.
I will also say that growing up, the first games I ever played were 2D platformers on the Sega Genesis. Hours of my childhood were filled with moving left to right at Mach speed in Sonic the Hedgehog, or cleverly working my way through Earthworm Jim.
So, while 2D platformers may not be my favorite, they are a huge part of my gaming history.
All that being said, I was intrigued yet fearful of going into EarthNight. On one hand, the hand-drawn fully illustrated world the game takes place in is breathtaking. Even still images of the game look beautiful. And the soundtrack is to die for. I would purchase the soundtrack alone for $15 let alone the entire game.
On the other hand… it’s a 2D platformer… and an auto-runner.
But hold in your guttural noises, because this game is not like any other auto-runner. It’s actually good.
EarthNight doesn’t have much of a story but that doesn’t take away from the game at all. There is an opening cutscene/slideshow explaining the history of the downfall of the human race. Dragons have come from somewhere and have taken over the earth.
As a result of the “dragon apocalypse”, humanity is forced to leave Earth and live among the cosmos. The human race shows no interest in attempting to reclaim Earth except for two individuals who are the protagonists in EarthNight; Sydney and Stanley.
And that’s about it. You both live in a small spaceship that floats in Earth’s atmosphere with an unnamed merchant who doesn’t take part in fighting the dragons. Instead, he handles the water you obtain which acts as the human race’s new form of currency. That makes sense because obviously H2O is sparse in space.
Sydney and Stanley leave the ship, jump on the backs of dragons and run across their spines to stab the big lizards in the head. I believe that story is important in video games, but for a game like this, that’s about all you need to know.
Dragons take your home. You kill dragons to get home back.
As I mentioned before, EarthNight is a 2D platformer auto-runner. Think if Green Hill Zone from Sonic had the same gameplay mechanics as Super Mario Run. That’s the bare bones of how the game plays but doesn’t do it justice.
In traditional 2D platformers, you have about 8 different directions you can move in: up, down, left, right, and diagonal. You have to press the buttons to make your character move in those directions. In an auto-runner, your character moves to the right automatically and the buttons you press make your character jump or dash.
However, EarthNight adds new layers of depth to character movement that, while still technically being classified as an auto-runner, makes the game really enjoyable and addicting to play.
At the start of each round, you choose between Sydney or Stanley. They both have their own unique movesets, and later in the game unlock different items that are unique to them. For instance, earlier in the game Sydney unlock different kinds of bread she can eat to summon dragon energy and Stanley unlocks swords.
Stanley and Sydney both play very differently from each other. Stanley only has two moves. Press B and he jumps. Press A and he long jumps. This makes Stanley both simpler to play and very difficult to play. And in my case, he wasn’t as fun. Which is sad because going into EarthNight I liked his character design a lot more, and wanted to play as him.
Sydney, however, has an array of mobility. She can jump by pressing B like Stanley, but Sydney gets an additional movement once she leaves the ground. She can press B to jump again, A to dash forward, or Y to dash downward. And when Sydney bounces off the head of an enemy she is able to perform another movement. This allows you to combo her moves together to maintain moments and zoom through levels. It also feels really cool when flying through the air and racking up points and just looking so awesome.
While zooming around feels incredible, nothing in this game beats the feeling of killing a dragon. You start every round on the back of a dragon starting at the tail. You run right dodging, killing, jumping over enemies and collecting junk that translates into water. The UI has a simplistic map of the dragon letting you know how far along the dragon you are. Some levels are short, some are long, and some are incredibly difficult. But getting to the head of the dragon is always worth it.
Once you’ve reached the nape of a dragon’s neck the music changes to a hardcore chiptune rock version of the level’s music. No more enemies lie between you and the short distance you have to travel to get to the dragon’s head. The music is also a time clock. You have the exact amount of time the song lasts to kill the dragon. You reach the head, draw your weapon, and stab the dragon repeatedly to claim your victory over the giant scaley beast.
If you kill the dragon in time, the screen fades to white and your newly claimed dragon fang floats on the screen… but if you don’t the dragon shakes you off like a pesky fly.
After the kill or the fail, you skydive through the different layers of the earth’s atmosphere choosing to dodge all of the dragons in your path or diving towards your next target.
EarthNight may feel good to play, but it is also gorgeous to look at and listen to. Everything in this game is hand illustrated from the characters you play as, to monsters you kill, to the dragons you ride on. And it is absolutely beautiful.
To give you a good picture of how the game stays consistently beautiful throughout its different layers of gameplay, allow me to illustrate it with my words. As you’re free-falling towards Earth, hundreds of dragons are twisting and turning and flying around below you. You try to dodge, but some dragons are just too big and they run into you or you are unable to dodge them in time.
So, you have just landed on a big snakey boy and what do you see? In the background and flying closely overhead are the same dragons you were diving towards a moment ago. The game surrounds you with these beautiful beasts, and it truly gives you a scale of how many of these giant creatures there are.
One of my favorite instances throughout the game was when I noticed a behemoth of a dragon skeleton floating in the background of one level. The developers could have left it at that I would have thought it was a beautiful addition to the game, however, they didn’t. Just as soon as I had enough time to admire the skeletal remains, one of the many dragons flying in the sky flies through the eye hole in the skull. Not phases through like bad programing, but directs its path to fly perfectly through the hole.
But if the game looks amazing, it sounds incredible. The music in EarthNight is a beautiful symphony of chiptunes noises and synth. I have found myself listening to the menu screen for far too long before I’ve noticed I haven’t selected a character yet and that I’ve faded away into some chip-synth dream.
The music transitions perfectly between different menus and levels and even different portions of levels. And it matches the game perfectly as well. I will link the soundtrack here because it is so dang good and is the thing that pushed me over the edge to buy the game.
A purchase I most certainly do not regret.
At times, EarthNight can be incredibly difficult, sometimes feeling a bit unfair, but I can chalk that up to my lack of skill. The game plays great, but at the same time can be repetitive over long periods of play.
If you are in the market for a great 2D platformer, definitely pick this up. I feel like it is a great game and enthusiasts of the genre and could prove to be a great challenge to those who consider themselves adept platformers.
For those who are looking for a relatively cheap new game to help bridge the gap between AAA releases, I would also recommend picking up a copy. It’s easy to pick up and play, and after a few rounds, you start to gain a better feel for how the game plays. And on that note, it is also a game that is quick to pick up and play a couple of rounds while waiting to leave the house, go on a short car ride, or just need to scratch your gaming itch. I must warn you though, once you pick this game up, it’s hard to set back down.
Verdict: In all, EarthNight is a breathtakingly beautiful homage to classic arcade games. At times a bit too challenging for my liking, but nonetheless a great game.
Zackerie Fairfax is living proof that you don’t have to be good at video games to love playing them. He has spent tens-of-thousands of hours with a controller in hand playing every genre imaginable and prides himself in being a master-of-none. His childhood consisted of obscure games played by few and enjoyed by fewer, and his adulthood is a mirror image of his youth.
He is also the co-host of the Games Sold Separately Podcast