The shoot-em-up (smartly shortened to shmup) emerged in the 60s as a subgenre of the shooter category, with Steve Russell’s Spacewar! being the first introduction of the intense and oftentimes adrenaline-intoxicating gameplay we’ve come to know of the subgenre. In the early 90s, we saw a niche of games, affectionately called “bullet hells” or “manic shooters,” take the shmup to the extremely literal definition of “shoot them up.” These bullet hell games—called so because of the jarring and overwhelming amount of projectiles on screen at any given time—have helped game studios like Housemarque, developers of 1996’s Super Stardust and 2013’s Resogun, survive for nearly three decades. While surviving on the conviction of perfecting a subgenre may work for Housemarque, it doesn’t seem to work for Pixel Perfex. The studio’s Earth Atlantis wants so desperately to be a bullet hell that it forgets the core of the genre: exhilaration, stimulation, and tension. Earth Atlantis is none of these; it has none of these. Earth Atlantis is mere bullet hell tedium ad nauseam, an exercise in boredom and repetition and little else.
Worse Repetition Than Groundhog Day
Devastated by “The Great Climate Shift,” 96 percent of the Earth’s surface is underwater. As if matters weren’t bad enough in this cataclysmic situation, machines that have adopted the form of marine animals have begun terrorizing what remains of human civilization. You are a “Hunter” piloting a submarine, sent to exterminate these mechanized monsters. Or something like that. The truth is there’s no narrative in Earth Atlantis. Every time you start the game, you’re greeted with the same two sets of screens, filled with the same two sets of text, populated with the same two sets of images to ad infinitum. And this is merely the first glimpse of the game’s repetition. Even the ships, while visually distinct, could be considered Xeroxes that have been modified in only the slightest of ways.
There are a total of four ships, each with varying stats and main weapon types. Unfortunately, these stats don’t make a difference in the game. Just because Moby Dick has more armor power than Aquanaut doesn’t mean you’ll last longer. This leaves you picking a submarine based on the max power of its main weapon, making all of the stats useless. You can unlock the other three ships, but this requires you find one of those pirates, destroy them in battle, and capture the ship. You can essentially play the entire game without ever encountering a single pirate, effectively ruling out the other ships. Not that it matters anyway, as all of the ships control and function the same. The difference? The cool names. But a badass submarine name doesn’t make you a badass submarine pilot, especially when Earth Atlantis is as far away from being badass as possible.
Your Choices Mean Nothing
Although there are sub-weapons to be found within the game, you can only pick up one at a time, giving some weight to your choice of sub-weapon. But similar to the submarine’s stats, these decisions don’t matter either: Both your ship’s main and sub-weapons have no cool down and fire with the press of a single button. You can run through the entire game just by holding the fire button. Sure, you can turn your ship to face the other direction, but that isn’t always necessary since the ship’s main weapon fires from both front and back like simultaneously projectile vomiting and pooping. It looks just as silly as it sounds, and what’s worse is this design makes the game almost too easy. Some enemies can reduce your power when they hit you, but the screen is always so filled with enemies that drop health and power-ups so frequently that taking damage is inconsequential, diminishing the paint of accuracy in bullet hells. The only time damage—and, by default, precision—matters is when engaging with a boss.
But even the bosses are tedious. Worse, the bosses, while repetitious in their own way, oscillate between brainless and cheap. Some are locked on a rail, scrolling up and down at set intervals. Some are unpredictable in the worst way, charging you senselessly and firing a barrage of bullets nigh impossible to dodge. Regardless of the boss, though, they all are just bigger, more annoying versions of the monsters you’ve already swerved—just with more obnoxious projectiles firing from all directions. Bosses in bullet hells—in games in general—are there to test your aptitude, your understanding of the game and its various mechanics, but in Earth Atlantis, the bosses are only the brick walls you bang your head against. They test your patience more than your skill, leaving you wondering what’s even the point.
That’s a question Earth Atlantis doesn’t have an answer for. Perhaps the point, the game would like you to believe, is the “thrilling” boss battles. But if that’s the case, these battles should’ve been more engaging and memorable—adrenaline-intoxicating, if you will. It seems Pixel Perfex wanted to create a boss rush game similar to Acid Nerve’s Titan Souls or Team Ico’s Shadow of the Colossus but tossed the flood of mindless enemies in to keep you from sinking into the abyssal depths of boredom. Unfortunately, it’s too late, as Earth Atlantis doesn’t so much sink in the depths of the ocean as much as it drowns in the boring and tedious repetition it’s so engulfed in.
Earth Atlantis review code provided by publisher. Version 1.10 reviewed on Standard PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.