I was privileged to be able to play a pre-release version of EarthNight–the first title coming out of studio Cleaversoft–and I’m here to tell you why it is probably going to be a new indie obsession for many gamers when it releases next year.
Apocalypse. Spaceships. Epic Beards. A girl with rad powers. Dragons.
Do I have your attention?
As I strolled about the floors of Tulsa Pop Culture Expo, I witnessed a number of really cool indie games and had some really great conversations with several developers. Walking past Cleaversoft’s booth, however, I was immediately drawn in by an awesome art style and fantastic old school sounding music that was gracing the screen of the game being played there. It was bright, beautiful, and featured a bald man with a beard that was wielding a sword as he fought off a number of fantastical creatures rendered in a gorgeous hand painted style. No seriously, go look at the artist Paul Davey’s Deviant Art page or his official page. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Now that you’ve seen the art for yourself it is obvious to say I was intrigued to find out more.
I’ll be honest, when I saw the game was an auto runner I nearly turned around and left the booth. It isn’t that there aren’t a number of quality runners out there–Super Mario Run comes instantly to mind–it is that for every good auto runner game there seems to be thousand more bad ones.
Luckily that isn’t the case at all for EarthNight, quite the contrary in fact. The game is epic feeling experience that utilizes the auto running mechanic to create an exciting and frenetic feeling game with a delightfully addicting hook.
In EarthNight you play as one of two characters, both survivors of the dragon apocalypse that forced humans off of their world and into the spaceships that they now inhabit. Since the military and government was annihilated in the attack it is up to our intrepid heroes to skydive through the different layers of atmosphere, running across dragon’s backs until they reach the head where they can strike them down and possibly reclaim human kind’s home.
At first I thought that each character was simply a skin swap, but learned shortly after that both have entirely unique move sets available to them. Sydney is a fourteen-year-old that seems to possess the help of a powerful dragon spirit that she utilizes as a weapon and this mysterious ally can be used to augment Sydney’s abilities in mid-air. This allows her to do a forward dash, a downward dash, and a powerful strike that extends her jumping abilities. Meanwhile my boy Stanley is a beautifully bearded bald dude, who just happens to be a sword wielding freelance photographer that has several handy abilities of his own; he is able to extend his jumps higher, auto slashes with his sword at targets he passes, and has a long jump he can utilize to speed himself up, covering longer gaps in one pass.
This alone should let you know how serious Cleaversoft is in bringing the epic into this auto runner, but it is further differentiated by mechanics that let you alter the height of your jump, plummet down at a touch of the D-Pad, and slow in order to time a bounce off enemies heads. It makes for an incredibly smooth feeling experience where you find yourself using each enemy as a stepping stone to reach ever higher, grabbing items and powerups that allow you to get farther in each run. Killing dragons will net you unlocks of new items that grant a wide array of abilities, everything from a double jump to making you giant, and it makes each new run uniquely fun.
I typically am not a fan of permadeath games, but the mechanic works well in EarthNight. After each run I found myself instantly wanting to start again, and found myself saddened when I had to hand the controller over to other people waiting for their turn to play. I was surprised to find out that each level is actually procedurally generated, but in a way that Cleaversoft terms “hand-designed procedural generation.” What this means is that each dragon is broken into three parts–the beginning, middle, and end. Using these hand crafted sets of at least five individual layouts per each part, it makes for a staggering 125 possible combinations for each dragon. This makes sure that each dragon is a unique experience, and one that is always able to be conquered–regardless of the way the procedural system sets it up.
What excited me most though was the developer’s clear drive in making a game that evoked the best that gaming has to offer. Rich Siegel, the lead developer of the title, spoke passionately about the aim to fill the game with the types of secrets and warps that we recall from the classics of our childhoods–games like Super Mario Brothers 3. These warps would allow you to make your way quickly to the areas you wish to visit as you memorize their locations, even though you start over on each death.
As you play you’ll constantly test the game, learning its wonderful secrets, meeting charming characters, and growing ever more skilled. This calls to mind the types of games that our industry is built upon, and as hyperbolic as that sounds, it also makes me incredibly excited to play more of the game. The team seems to have an incredibly strong grasp on what makes a good difficulty curve, and it led to a loop that felt organic in nature. Even in a few short playthroughs I started to see new patterns emerging from the enemies–ever more secrets just barely out of reach–and felt my skills improving.
In short this game is one that needs to be watched closely. It has a very satisfying hook, stunning artwork, toe-tapping music, infinite replayability, and, OH YEAH, DRAGONS.
The wait to 2019 suddenly got very, very long.