PSX 2016: EarthNight

The premise for EarthNight, a side scrolling procedurally generated platformer, is most certainly unique: a race of dragons has forced humanity to find a new home in space stations. Freelance photographer Stanley and Sydney, a 14 year old high schooler, become a pair of unlikely heroes that take matters into their own hands to defeat the dragons and reclaim their home. It’s a fascinating setup for a game and the elaborate backdrop did put into the demo I played at the PlayStation Experience into context though before too long, my interest in plot waned as I grew more and more addicted to the game’s unique mechanics and visuals.

Players take control of either Stanley or Sydney and guide them as they race across the backs of long, Chinese-inspired dragons. As they make their way to the dragon’s head, the player will encounter various obstacles and defeat lesser creatures. When you reach the dragon’s head, the game switches to a simplistic version of Shadow of the Colossus in which you’ll have to stab the monster repeatedly before time runs out. When the dragon is killed, you’ll skydive towards Earth to take on more dragons, repeating the game loop once again. With a setup like this, I was concerned that EarthNight would get boring after awhile if you’re simply repeating the same gameplay sequence. Fortunately, the procedurally generated levels are designed to keep the game interesting and the levels fresh. Enemy types and patterns change, as do the appearance and placement of helpful items and collectible dragon eggs. Cleaversoft says there are 125 possible layout variations, which allows for fresh, new level experiences every time you play.

By and large, EarthNight is a really fascinating game. It’s built atop the foundations of mobile-friendly infinity runners, but Cleaversoft stressed that their game is built in such a way that will appeal to casual and core gamers. Unlike games like the bit.Trip series where all the player could do was jump and slide, EarthNight offers a large degree of control over their character’s actions. This presented itself in how Stanley and Sydney interact with enemies. Stanley is tuned for the casual gamer in mind and needs little input to defeat enemies either by slashing them with his sword or jumping on their heads to create air-based combos. Sydney, on the other hand, is a bit trickier to control. Her special ability involves a dive maneuver that is affected by how soon you hit the button while she is in mid-jump. An indicator gives a nice visual cue of whether or not Sydney is in position to make a dive attack or a regular jump. Controlling Sydney to the point where you’d get the most out of her moveset proved to be quite a feat to accomplish, so I hope the full release of the game will have some sort of a practice mode.

Esthetically speaking, Cleaversoft’s procedurally generated side scroll is a thing of beauty. All of the in-game assets were hand drawn and they look beautiful. I got to chat with a programmer on the game who was proud of the EarthNight’s visual flair despite how tricky it was to pair the art with procedurally generated levels. The game also sports an incredible chiptune soundtrack that I was enamored with from the very first chord of the in-game soundtrack. It’s a lovely way to package such an interesting game. EarthNight is on track to be released for PlayStation 4 and the Vita in late 2017.

Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.