Monday, October 23, 2017

Earth Atlantis (NS) Review

It's starting to become a tradition here at SuperPhillip Central for the final full week of the month to be loaded with reviews. While I aim to change that for November, let's start off this week of new reviews with Earth Atlantis, an underwater, exploratory shoot-em-up developed by Pixel Perfex.

Scouring the sepia seas

On a planet Earth where over 95% is now covered in water (something that is really topical, now that I think of it), humanity is at the brink, and ocean creatures have now combined with machinery to become terrorizing beasts. As a pilot of a special submarine, your objective is to explore the deep, eliminating targets in the form of dangerous sea life. This is developer Pixel Perfex's Earth Atlantis for the Nintendo Switch, a recent eShop release that tries out something different with the shoot-em-up genre and doesn't sink for it.

Earth Atlantis is spread across a single map in Quest Mode, tasking players with piloting their submarine (only one is available upon starting the game with a handful others to unlock) through the mechanical monstrosity-heavy ocean to arrive at points on a mini-map. These points are where the game's numerous -- and I do mean "numerous" -- boss battles occur. These are room-wide fights against enormous underwater creatures like killer kraken, massive octopuses, deadly squid, and other deep sea terrors that excite and delight. (Every encountered and defeated boss can be looked at any time within a special bestiary on the main menu.)

The creatures of the deep have certainly undergone some changes since Earth flooded.
Actually, these deep sea terrors generally excite and delight. Other times they can be absolutely brutal. You see, bosses have a nasty habit of jumping in difficulty to severe levels. One boss you might defeat with ease with its attacks merely depleting your sub's health slowly with each shot, while other fights have bosses that can easily destroy your sub with one hit. I generally don't like one-hit kills in any type of game, but it's especially a problem when these boss fights happen so early in the game, followed by a slew of much easier encounters. The difficulty scaling here is amiss with some bosses being easy while the next leaping in challenge soon after.

Defeating bosses generally reveals once blocked off passageways that are then made open, offering shortcuts to previous portions of the ocean or completely new areas in general to explore. These shortcuts are great to have, as there's a substantial amount of time in Earth Atlantis that features backtracking. Bosses appear in both new and previously traveled parts of the ocean, meaning you'll be moving back and forth between the rather sizable ocean again and again. You won't get most of the shortcuts open to you until pretty far along into the game either.

This slight annoyance is compounded by the mini-map, that merely shows locations of your sub, power-ups, and bosses. Everything else is blank, meaning there is no geography on the mini-map to assist or guide you in the ocean. Because the ocean is so labyrinthine and confusing to explore, offering many dead ends within the early half of exploring (bringing back up the lack of shortcuts starting off), for a player like myself, it was difficult sometimes to reach certain bosses without reaching a dead end or two. The backtracking combined with the challenge to navigate, combined with the quickly re-spawning enemies meant that traveling long distances wasn't the greatest experience imaginable -- though not at all ruining my enjoyment of the game.

These little torpedoes hone in on nearby targets. 
While Earth Atlantis may use the same ocean to travel across seemingly ad infinitum which brought me a feeling of occasional tedium, actually controlling the submarine through the ocean's cavernous system of passageways and channels was a delight. There's an instant response from the sub to each button press and analog stick movement made. The A/ZR button shoots, the B/ZL button turns the submarine the opposite direction it's currently facing (which makes your sub vulnerable for a quick second as it's an extended turn animation), and whether playing with both Joycons or just a single one, you're guaranteed to be satisfied with the controls.

Earth Atlantis isn't a bullet hell shooter by any stretch of the imagination, but it will surely have you bobbing and weaving your sub through heavy fire and bullets being fired and bounced from all directions, particularly in boss confrontations. Thankfully, you have heavy fire on your side as well because as you plunder the deep, defeated enemies generously drop weapon and discovered barrels hold upgrades like missiles, homing torpedoes, electric rays, and more. Like most shmups, you lose these after so many hits, and definitely so when your sub loses all of its health. Death isn't too substantial as you are placed right back into the ocean at the last starting point you uncovered on the map.

You can immediately tell by this review's complementary screenshots that Earth Atlantis is quite unlike a typical shmup, even if you hadn't read anything about the game or the words in the review at all. The game's sepia tone visuals help distinguish it even further from other similar games in the genre, as well as leaving an impressive artistic direction as well. Plundering the ocean in my sub, seeing seaweed flow from side to side, taking a peek at the top of the Statue of Liberty as it sits submerged in the ocean, and scoping at all the detail in the environments really implanted some seriously nice impressions of Earth Atlantis for me. Perhaps the only downside of the visual style is that every thing in the ocean world looks so similar, making it like an old black-and-white Game Boy game where it was a bit challenging to tell one area of the game to another (or worse, what was an enemy bullet and what was one of mine). Wrapping up my talk on Earth Atlantis' presentation, the one song played while exploring the ocean gets tiring to listen to, but the orchestrated boss battle themes definitely pick up the ocean theme's slack.

Don't get me wrong, though -- Earth Atlantis' visual style is much more a good thing than a bad thing.
Earth Atlantis manages to keep its head up above water, though at the same time not exactly serving up a spectacular deep sea adventure. Rampant backtracking, a mediocre mini-map, and insane difficulty jumps hurt the overall experience while superb controls, engaging combat, and a stunning visual style make for an enticing ocean odyssey. Just expect both tedium and frustration at times.

[SPC Says: C+]

Review code provided by Headup Games.

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