STAFF REVIEW of Earth Atlantis (Xbox One)

Monday, June 18, 2018.
by Adam Dileva

Earth Atlantis Box art As anyone who reads my reviews should know, shoot-em-ups (Shmups) are one of my favorite genres, and always have been. From the days of R-type, 1942, Raiden, Gradius, and my personal favorite of all time, Ikragua, I’ve always been drawn to the genre and became quite skilled at them as time has passed. So, anytime a new shmup is released, my interest is instantaneously piqued. Enter Earth Atlantis, developed by Pixel Perfex. It is a shmup that has you piloting a submarine, instead of the typical space or aircraft, set under a waterworld-like backdrop. What makes Earth Atlantis stand out right away is its unique artistic style, a choice that is equally refreshing yet somewhat frustrating.

“The Great Climate Shift” has hit the planet, leaving 96% of the Earth’s surface covered in water. Machines have adapted to this new paradigm shift of humanity’s downfall and have filled the endless ocean with marine machine hybrids. You, a “Hunter”, are now tasked with taking down the worst of the worst machines, but it won’t be easy, as you’ll have to fight against mechanical fish, squids, crabs, sharks and more. It’s a really interesting premise, but don’t expect a much more in-depth storyline aside from what's told in the beginning, but at least it gives a decent framework for your motivation and reasoning.

While the core gameplay is like any typical shmup, shooting down near endless enemies while trying to survive, it also has a Metroidvania-like map setup, allowing you to explore open pathways and caverns in the ocean depths. Interestingly, there’s also a monster hunting aspect to the gameplay, as your main goal is to reach every accessible boss and destroy them. Doing so will obviously not be as easy as you might assume, as you’ll have a ton of exploration to perform, with many dead ends, and tons of enemies to get through to progress.

One of the most unique aspects Earth Atlantis utilizes is its da Vinci style of sketch art style. The whole game looks as if you’re playing on an old parchment from the 15th century, which is something I’ve not seen before and quite enjoyed, but that was until it was more of a detriment later on. Let me explain.

Given that the bulk of the game has the same visual style of aged parchment, there’s not much variation in the hues, and it is devoid of all other colors for the most part. Where you start to run into issues with this visual style is that many of the enemies’ projectiles later on are pure white and easily blend into the lighter background. During boss fights you’ll take a handful of hits, given it’s incredibly difficult to distinguish all of the bullets from the background when things become incredibly hectic. While I applaud the unique visuals, there’s absolutely no variation, so over time it actually becomes a little dull.

You only have access to the first submarine at the start, with three others that you can unlock should you be lucky enough to randomly happen upon one of the other pirates. Destroy these pirate submarines and you’ll gain access to their sub, though this really isn’t explained all too well in the beginning. Each ship has varying stats and shot types, suiting different playstyles and situations. As you defeat enemies you’ll find random power-ups, such as rockets, electricity, homing missiles and more, adding to your arsenal.

The beginner sub simply shoots forwards and backwards, with more bullets added to your shots as you collect power-ups. The other ships have different shot types, such as one that shoots in a near 360 degrees around him, but less concentrated, while another one has a spread shot in front and back, and another one emits a super concentrated lasers on both sides. Even though it says the ships have different stats, I didn’t seem to notice much of a difference between them, and I made my choice based on a sub's maximum shot power and type.

What’s not explained from the beginning is how the minimap in the top left corner works. You’re dumped into the water world and you need to figure out what to do and where to go. The map will show you where the boss you need to defeat is located, but because the actual level layout isn’t on the map, you won’t know the exact path to get to where you want to go without trial and error. Sure, it has the Metroidvania-like map, but it is missing the most important part, showing how the levels are actually laid out. If the map was actually more useful, I wouldn’t have had as much frustration as I did given how often you need to backtrack. A proper execution of the map mechanic would have made for a much friendlier experience, as I wasted a lot of time trying to find the right path, only to hit a dead end and have to double back and try another section a long way.

There’s also no progression in terms of becoming more powerful. Sure you’ll find power-ups that increase your damage output and shots, but you can also lose them by getting hit by certain enemies and bosses. When you finally find the right path and are presented with a boss fight, these are exciting at first, but eventually you are forced to re-fight them again later on, albeit a more powerful and annoying version with new attack patterns.

There’s more than twenty bosses to fight, even some that more event based, such as having to kill 45 of a specific enemy, but you don’t really get much from defeating these foes aside from the map updating showing you where the next one is located, vaguely of course. There’s a handful of bosses, some more unique than others, each with their own attack types and patterns that will challenge you. Some bosses will open up a new pathway to use as a shortcut between main sections, but again, it’s not labeled on your map, so you better have a good memory.

This is how the progression of Earth Atlantis unravels: You search and search for the right way to the boss, littered with enemies, defeat them and try to find the next boss, and repeat until your map is clear of boss icons. There is another mode that unlocks when you finally manage to defeat all of the bosses, and you’ll most likely have unlocked all the ships by then. Once I was done, I didn’t have much desire to continue on again with a higher difficulty.

While I applaud the unique setting for a shmup and its interesting art style, you’ll take many hits because of how projectiles blend into the background chaos. After a couple hours, it becomes very frustrating to have to kill a boss on one side of the map, then have to traverse to the complete opposite side, essentially blind, unless you have a photographic memory. Ideally, killing bosses would ‘unlock’ a new pathway to a new area and grant you access further into the ocean depths with harder enemies, but you’ll constantly be motoring from the easy beginning side all the way to the more difficult with each boss kill.

After the final boss was completed, I had my fill. It’s not that Earth Atlantis was a bad shmup, it was simply kind of dull. The majority of your time will be trying to find your way to the boss located on the map without any indication that you’re going the right way or not. You'll also be restarting from checkpoints because of the later bosses that are quite annoying to fight. If you’re dying for a new shmup to kill a few hours you could do worse, but I’d wait for a sale before entering the depths of Earth Atlantis.

Overall: 6.7 / 10
Gameplay: 6.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 6.0 / 10


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