Imagine, nearly 200 years on, Charles Darwin’s sketchbook from visits to the Galapagos. Sepia toned, pages cracking with age, the beautiful drawings fading, but still full of detail. Now imagine those pages brought to life – fantastical creatures lurking in a sunken world. That’s Earth Atlantis, a new shooter from developer Pixel Perfex Studios and publisher Headup Games
The story is typically post-apocalyptic; following a climate disaster at the end of the 21st century (are you paying attention, fossil-fuel-pandering Trump?) the surface of the earth is almost entirely under water. Human civilisation has fallen and the machines have risen (looks like Hawking was right), taking the form of deep sea creatures. You, as a Hunter, must hunt and and destroy them.
So far, so usual, eco-warrior pretensions aside. What immediately sets this side-scrolling shooter apart is the way it looks. It’s beautiful, with a hand-sketched aesthetic that absolutely pops on the Switch’s gorgeous screen. With simulated film grain to boot, Visually Earth Atlantis is quite unlike anything else out there.
Despite the monochromatic style and the strictly two-dimensional play, Earth Atlantis has real depth. Detailed seascapes fade into the murk, while the animated denizens of the deep flt back and forth, generally making life miserable for your submarine-equipped hunter.
It’s not always perfect though; it can sometimes be difficult to tell if detail is in the foreground or background – looking pretty but allowing passage – or if it’s on the same plane as your vessel, blocking the way. If your bullets can pass, so can you, but sometimes in the heat of battle you’ll find yourself cornered.
Hunters can chose from a number of submersible vehicles – though initially only one is available – each with different strengths; speed, armour, weaponry. In each case, offensive weaponry is initially weedy, but firepower quickly increases as you collect power ups dropped by destroyed enemies. Your primary weapon can be upgraded thanks to drops from destroyed enemies, whilst seeking out submerged packages will net you bonus weapons – powerful torpedoes, homing missiles, bouncing bombs and the like. These make a real difference and are well worth seeking out before you go hunting for the bosses.
Its the boss battles that are the meat of the game – there are thirty-seven giant sea-creature-machines to hunt down and destroy in an ever-expanding underwater world, each boss more deadly than the last. Bosses are a real challenge at times, and the gatekeepers of progress in your exploration. Destroying each opens up a little more of the world to explore, more underwater cities full of fishy machines.
It’s not just the bosses that are impressive bad guys; standard enemies are full of character, too. Early favourites include bull-headed sharks that charge your vessel head-on, and ray-dealing angelfish that, as they turn and flee into the murk, are as thin in profile as their real-life counterparts.
Whilst there’s not huge variety in the action, as the environment changes so do the enemies you face, with different and more challenging attach patterns. Puffer-fish explode – burst, really – on death, spewing out a starburst of indestructible missiles; crabs scuttle around on walls, waving their pincers and throwing rocks; and anemone enemies cling limpet-like to rocks, firing homing missiles at your beleaguered hunter. Later stages verge on bullet hell, your time spent dodging a screen full of bullets at a time as you progress through increasingly complex seascapes.
All this is a perfect fit for Nintendo’s hybrid system. Whether settling down for a long session of kaiju-blasting in front of the TV, or five minutes exploring in the queue at the Post Office, Earth Atlantis is never less than satisfying, and is frequently thrilling. The drive to get to that next boss, to mark off just a little more progress, is ever-present and, minor issues of signposting aside, Earth Atlantis accomplishes everything it sets out to do.
Earth Atlantis is available in the Nintendo eShop priced £13.49, $14.99, or €14.99.
Release Date: 5 October 2017
Platforms: Nintendo Switch