Here be dragons! Thousands and thousands of them! Guess who needs to slay them? That’d be you. Earthnight brings a unique and beautiful twist to runner style games by giving you goals, currency and an actual end to achieve. It is going to be a grind but it’s going to be hugely enjoyable.
Earthnight places you inside the running shoes of two heroes. You pick your lead and dive out the spaceship door to land on the back of a dragon. You’ll need to traverse across the length of the dragon, defeating enemies and collecting junk on the way. If you survive, you’ll reach the dragons head where you’ll need to perform a quickly timed button mash and defeat the dragon. Then you’ll leap off that dragon into a freefall section that lets you glide towards your next dragon prey. How many can you defeat and can you reach the bottom intact?
Each run of Earthnight starts at the highest atmospheric point, leaping from your spaceship onto the first dragon. You will autorun forward but you can choose your speed with the D-Pad. Key to everything is your jump and stomp. Killing enemies activates a multiplier to your trash collection and trash is the currency in the game. The easiest way to do this is to press down after a jump to stomp on an enemy. That then springs you into the air for you to guide your mighty hooves down onto the next enemy. Keep the combo running and your trash grows exponentially for that dragon. Of course, if you never land off an enemy and miss all the trash then your skill was for nothing so balance is vital. Your highest combo stays for that level.
Character specific moves can help you too. Sydney can double jump and do a powerful lunge whereas Stanley is more focused on attacks. Both play similarly but have their own quirks and you’ll veer towards a favourite over the course of the game depending on how you want to rack up the combo meter.
After each run, your total trash is turned into water and collected in litres. You can then use these to buy power-ups and later on, along with other collectables, upgrade the power-ups too. Power-ups are the key to making your run last longer. What impressed me was that after the initial power-ups were collected such as shields, double jump boots and swords – combo power-ups were available to create. Suddenly I had double jump boots with extra springs and I found that these power-ups gave the game a new verticality that I didn’t appreciate before. Sometimes I was jumping so high up I didn’t expect there to be anything to find so high but I was very wrong.
You see Earthnight is anything but running across a dragon back. In fact, if you stay at ground level you’ll miss all the big loot and the collectable dragon eggs for upgrades. This is where I found that playing as Sydney suited me far better. I just couldn’t get up as a high with Stanley and when the enemies came in their droves, I needed that extra dexterity to avoid them.
It would be remiss of me to not mention the absolutely beautiful hand-drawn art. Over 10,000 individual frames were drawn and it really shows. It feels like a fluid comic in motion and is easily one of its selling points. The other selling point is the superb soundtrack. Songs come in retro chip and full band versions for you to choose from and whilst some of them become a little stale over time because you’ll always hear them when you start off on the opening dragons, they are never dull and really add to the arcade ‘Sonic’ feel to things.
Becoming stale over time is literally the only small complaint I have about Earthnight and it comes with the territory with an autorunner. For each run you’ll slay about 8 or 9 dragons and whilst the levels have procedural generation, you’ll be spending a lot of time usually slaying the same first two types of dragons to build up the capability to take on the latter third of the game. The difficulty spike shoots up from the crystal dragons onwards and so be prepared for the grind. I wish there was a little more variety up top before you get to the seriously crazy dragons down below on your dive to Earth. My advice, take it in 30 minute stints at a time and the grind feels much less pronounced.
Earthnight shows exactly what can be achieved when you push a genre out of its comfort zone. Stunning graphics, excellent precise gameplay and a sense of progression that makes each run moreish, this is one of the best autorunners ever made. A superb achievement.