The auto-runner is certainly an interesting genre. Alongside its sister genre, the endless runner, auto-runners take some of the movement out of a platformer, and instead have players react to obstacles. Auto-runners and endless runners are extremely popular on mobile devices. Super Mario Run and Sonic Dash are just two examples. However, while these genres are massive on mobile, on console it's a different story. One will be hard-pressed to find many auto-runners on a home console. Unfortunately, a number of cheaply made mobile games have soured the genres, giving the impression that most auto-runners are low-budget games made to pass the time. EarthNight, on the other hand, is an exciting auto-runner pushing the genre to the fullest, delivering a visually appealing and fast-paced experience.
In EarthNight, players can play as either Sydney or Stanley. Both can jump and perform a special ground attack by holding the down button from way up. However, there are key differences between each character. Sydney can double jump, while Stanley can long jump. Also, the character dictates what temporary power-ups appear in the levels. Stanley can gain access to a sword, while Sydney has bread which allows her to go through enemies. The goal is to successfully run across various dragons, avoiding and defeating enemies, eventually getting to the dragon's head. To aid in the fight, players can acquire items and dragon eggs along the way. Defeating a dragon will gain its tooth. Players can put these items in the shop, enabling temporary boosts on the battlefield, such as the aforementioned energy sword. So, even in defeat, there is an accomplishment.
The world has been ravaged by dragons, while humanity has been driven to space. Two characters, Stanley and Sydney, skydive from their ship to take back the Earth. Along the way, the characters can defeat other dragons, and hopefully reach the most powerful dragon of them all.
A Visual And Auditory Treat
EarthNight's visuals were completely painted by Mattahan. The work speaks for itself right from the first purple dragon. There's a genuineness to the visuals that other games in the running genres don't often have. Looking at EarthNight is a treat simply based on the painted aesthetic. Much of the game takes place in space, and the backgrounds are lovely.
Besides the visuals, another memorable aspect of EarthNight is the chiptune soundtrack. It replicates the sounds of a classic era title, similar to how Sonic Mania sounds like a game released in a previous era. The themes never become old in EarthNight, instead always making running across dragons a fun and intense ride. This is a game where you will want to have the volume turned up all the time.
Great Use Of Auto-Running
In some sense, EarthNight's gameplay isn't anything new. The characters are always running, and players must jump often. However, there are a number of interesting gameplay mechanics to be aware of. The character can jump on a string of enemies, and achieve combos. This is helpful because a string of five will regenerate health, something that is truly precious in the title. One of the most rewarding aspects of the title is reaching the top of the dragons. It's satisfying being able to jump using platforms and enemies, uncovering secrets.
Although most of the game is spent running across the bodies of dragons, players will be descending into five different layers of the atmosphere, with many dragons flying about. This is a visually appealing way to get from dragon to dragon, and also interesting because players can choose what dragons to land on by navigating the falling character.
EarthNight offers challenging gameplay. One thing to keep in mind is that the game is arcade-based with permadeath. So, if one dies on the fourth dragon, it's back from scratch. However, what's unique about this is that players will die, but come back with temporary power-ups littered in the field based on what was collected in the previous run. So, instead of demotivating the player upon deaths, it's actually motivating to jump back into the fray with the temporary power-ups. Also, there are different layouts of the same dragons, making playthroughs different.
Finally, actually slaying a dragon can be epic and quite stressful. Most require carefully charging up for a powerful attack. Others require pressing the button as fast as possible. One dragon requires players to time their attacks with its glowing eye.
Returning To The Final Dragon Can Be Annoying
With all that said, though, there will come a time when you have conquered a bunch of dragons and feel ready to beat the final one. It then gets annoying having to run across the opening dragon again, as well as the Crystal dragon, before getting back to the final one. Another problem with this is accidentally landing on a dragon on your way to the Stratosphere. If you have full health all set to go for the final one, but accidentally hit another dragon, it's possible to enter the final round with less health, making the run more aggravating. While the final level offers up some great challenge, it also feels unfair in spots, such as danger balloon placement and having a hard time getting to safety when playing as Stanley.
Although EarthNight features quality content, some may find the price of $14.99 too steep, due to how short it can be. Of course, few will be able to get through the game in one go on the default mode, so the price isn't horrible.
Don't Like Auto-Runners? Play EarthNight
EarthNight is a little gem. Auto-runners and endless runners do not have the greatest reputation, but this title paints an exciting future for them. It's not perfect, in part due to the (at times) tedious arcade system and technically short length for the price. Still, the outstanding painted visuals, wonderful chiptune soundtrack, and altogether great use of automatic running makes EarthNight worth checking out.
A Switch review code for EarthNight was provided to TheGamer for this review. EarthNight is available now for the Apple Arcade, and will be available on December 3rd for Nintendo Switch, PS4, and PC.