Gaming Writer Daniel Bray goes out of his comfort zone to look at Cleaversoft’s love letter to platformers, EarthNight on PC.
I am not a veteran of your classic platformers – I’ve never played any of the Mario Bros. games, and the only platformers in my steam library are the more recent LIMBO and INSIDE by Playdead. But something about EarthNight might have just turned me into a platformer enthusiast. The premise behind EarthNight is simple – dragons have taken over the world, and humans have been exiled to space. You can play as Sydney or Stanley to skydive from orbit, down through the thermosphere, mesosphere, chemosphere and stratosphere, to the surface of the earth, and attempt to take out dragons on your way. While doing this, you can collect dragon pieces, dragon eggs, and other items, which can be traded for water – humankind’s new currency – back on your spaceship.
The first thing that struck me was the beautiful art style, which, while not ultra-realistic like some new games, is superbly clean and eye-catching. You’re also greeted by a wonderful soundtrack, composed by chiptone musician Chipocrite, with the option to play both full band and GameBoy-style chiptune versions in the settings menu. Using a keyboard, the controls can take a bit of getting used to. The game is available on the Nintendo Switch, Apple Arcade, and Steam, and I agree with developer Cleaversoft‘s recommendation that using a controller is the most sensible way to play the game – the default bindings on a keyboard are w, a, s, d and the arrow keys, which caused a little confusion for me both in-game and in menus, where the arrow keys aren’t used for navigation, and instead you use w, a, s and d, with the right arrow as an ‘enter’ button.
At its heart, EarthNight is a simple platformer – you can control the speed of your character’s auto-run, and make your character jump. Stanley can do a long jump, and Sydney can double jump, but other than these moves, you’ll have to collect power-ups to drastically change your movement mechanics. To progress through the levels, you skydive through each section of the atmosphere, choosing whether to land on dragons to gain water and items, or to simply avoid them, saving time in reaching the Earth’s surface.
The dragons are where the action occurs. Enemies will move towards you both in the sky and along the dragon’s back – which acts as the ground which your character walks on. To kill these enemies, you must jump on their heads, whilst making sure that you don’t take any damage. If you can chain together more than 4 kills without touching the ground, you will gain back precious life points – a skill which becomes more and more vital in the latter stages of the game. And here lies my first real issue with the gameplay itself – whilst enemies are usually clustered in such a way that you can easily chain jumps together, if you miss the first head bounce, you’re likely to miss all of the following bounces and take a lot of damage. Enemies in the sky often run into the same problem – often you’ll encounter two groups of flyers, one above the other – In such a way that taking damage is inevitable. And this made my first few hours of EarthNight quite infuriating.
After running all the way along a dragon’s back, you will reach its head. Here, depending on which layer of the atmosphere you’re on, you must utilise different techniques to kill the dragon and obtain a piece of it, used for unlocking items and upgrades. And here lies my next problem – to begin with, I had no clue about how the dragon fight mechanics worked. It turns out that the bosses in the thermosphere (‘level 1’) require well timed attacks to be beaten, whereas the ‘harder’ mesosphere bosses (‘level 2’) require much simpler button-mashing – something that makes me question the order of the dragon fight mechanics. On top of this, after many hours of playing, I’m still not entirely sure how the timing of attacks works with Sydney, but luckily for me, it’s a lot clearer with Stanley. It would have also been useful to find out earlier that collecting dragon eggs increases your attack damage against bosses, thus making them easier to defeat.
In the early stages, when I was thinking about the best word to describe EarthNight, ‘infuriating’ was the only description that I could think of – my qualms with the genre of platformers, and EarthNight itself, were getting the better of me. But, as I slowly unlocked all of the powerups, and even started to upgrade some of them, I suddenly started to enjoy the game. There’s something delightful about speeding across beautiful procedurally generated dragons, trying to chain combos and collect powerups. The enemies in the latter stages of the game are wonderfully devious – the highlight being an angry totem-like figure who flies on a cloud alongside you, hurling stupid insults your way, such as the classic Monty Python slam ‘your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries’ – and normal difficulty is manageable once you’ve actually collected a decent number of power-ups.
But don’t get me wrong – the final level, conveniently called ‘EarthNight’, is devilishly hard. Even with all powerups unlocked and most upgraded, getting past the two-thirds mark in the level has been impossible for me. This only makes me want to play it more, though. I’m desperate to see how the game ends. On top of this, there are harder difficulties to play for those who don’t want to see sunlight for the rest of the week.
Overall, I would thoroughly recommend EarthNight to anyone wanting to play a beautiful platformer, where complete playthroughs can take as little as eight minutes or as long as 30, but only if they are willing to grind through the first few hours of the game, which can feel repetitive and annoying at times. I think that my initial analysis of the game as being infuriating was almost correct – having spent some time with EarthNight, I think that ‘infuriatingly good’ would be a much better way to describe it.
EarthNight is currently available on Apple Arcade, Nintendo Switch and PC.
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