Goodness me I am just so ridiculously happy I’ve started doing this. Finding games like EarthNight, that I’d never have heard of otherwise, brings so much joy. And then I get sad again that games of this quality aren’t getting noticed by the wider press, and remotivated, and happy again, and this is the endless cycle. EarthNight is also an endless cycle, an absolutely pristine combination of the endless runner and the roguelite, into something that feels entirely its own.
Dragons have taken over the Earth. Sorry, I probably should have given you some sort of warning before delivering news like that. Most of humanity gave up the fight back and were wiped out, but a brave few continue on from their space-based exile. Two of those brave few are Sydney and Stanley, and it’s either of these that you control as you race across the curving backs of flying dragons, in a roguelite-cum-endless-runner-cum-platform game that reinvents how to use the old-fashioned jump.
At first it felt too fast. I thought it was going to be Sonic Syndrome, flying past everything far too quickly to be able to comprehend what you were really doing. Then I realised I was just thinking too slowly. After a few abortive attempts, it clicked, I got the hang of it, and I fell completely in love. And that almost audible clicking came with getting to grips with the downward falling.
It’s my fault – you could hardly accuse the game of not mentioning it. Loading screens, advice screens, even background art are all encouraging you to hold down as you descend. But I’m stubborn, if not an idiot. Yet once you realise that yoinking Syd or Stan down allows you to make precision head-slams of the squillions of mini-dragon-ish foes, you also realise it also opens up the true joy of flying.
This is a game about flying, really. Which is why I prefer playing as Sydney with her double and triple jumps, her sideways and downward dashes, as opposed to Stanley’s slightly more sedate sword-wielding approach. When you find your groove, get that rhythm of action just right, you soar. The clouds above these stratospheric beasts contain multitudes of collectibles, hidden extras, and most of all, dragon eggs. Swooping through them, clipping the far right edge of a platform to reset your extra jumps, boinging off five enemies in a row to refill health, it’s all gorgeous whooshing.
Reach a dragon’s head and you can pulverise it (in a surprisingly non-gory manner), then plummet further through the skies to aim for another’s back. Repeat until all your health is lost, whereupon you will be scooped up back into your ship for another run.
Or indeed to swap your spoils. Water is the most precious commodity in EarthNight’s times, and every oddity you gather is exchanged for liquid by some seemingly complex varying economy that has absolutely no actual impact on how you play. Water can be spent on additional bonuses, that then appear as pick-ups on your next run. Kill dragons and you’ll access these even more quickly.
First of all you’ll get swords, double-jump boots, bonuses for Sydney’s (entirely unexplained) dragon spirit (which would seem like a conflict of interests), and so on. The more you play, the more you gather, the more you unlock, and the more interesting the next run becomes. And that’s the key here, why this doesn’t feel like Yet Another Temple Run Clone – it feels like a modern reinvention of the form, taking on board the lessons from the other over-trodden genre-du-jour, the roguelite.
Runs feel like they mean something, beyond trying to beat your last record, your last best distance. You’re going somewhere. And with two completely different play styles to do it in, there’s even more reason to keep having another go. And another. And another.
And none of this is to mention the absolutely lovely animation. The cartoon work here is just so splendid, and it’s all accompanied by a really great score. It’s just such a sublimely well put together game, and I’ve now got a callous on my right thumb from hoiking down on the analogue stick, and yet just want to keep playing.