On its surface, EarthNight screams of a simplicity that hides a complex and zen beauty. EarthNight is an auto-runner, which is not to be confused with an infinite-runner. There is a definite endpoint to EarthNight’s dragon-slaying descent into the atmosphere, though that endpoint doesn’t matter much when it’s so incredibly easy to start another run. And another. And another. Games don’t always have to be these complex sprawling open worlds with deep combat and crazy sidequests. Sometimes just running along the back of a dragon will suffice.
In EarthNight, humanity has been forced out into the stars by dragons who have taken over the earth. Our heroes are Sydney, a young girl with a hidden spirit power, and Stanley, the bearded and bald sword-wielder. These characters begin their journey in a spaceship high above the Earth’s surface, skydiving down to the planet below while eliminating dragons along the way. The ultimate goal is to reach the surface of the Earth and defeat the EarthNight dragon.
Running along the backs of dragons is a hazardous affair, and it’s not actually because the dragons themselves are all that dangerous. Waves of perilous creatures stand and fly and leap and all sorts of other things between you and the dragon’s head. Sydney or Stanley constantly move forward. Each character has their own set of moves, with Stanley having a simpler set of movement abilities and Sydney being a bit more complex but rewarding. Stanley has a higher potential skill ceiling with his variety of power-ups, however, so it’s well worth learning to use each of them for continued play.
Because your character is always moving forward, EarthNight really falls into a rhythm when you accept its momentum and move with it. Early attempts may be a little bit frustrating as you get used to the movement system. Just missing a collectible or a power-up as your character careens past it is disheartening, but with how quickly the game moves, you’ll be onto the next dragon and even onto the next run before you’re given much time to care. Each run is randomized and procedurally generated, so some are inevitably going to be harder than others. Some runs I managed massive multipliers as I charged through waves of enemies, and other times I was cut embarrassingly short before I’d even cleared the space dragons.
Power-ups can be purchased using water (the currency of the 3000 refugees living aboard a fleet of spaceships) and a variety of items you’ll collect as you kill a variety of dragons. The catch is that these power-ups must be collected during a run. There’s nothing that will make your character more powerful right at the outset (except turning on Assist Mode, which doubles your health). These elements give EarthNight a rogue-lite feel. Getting the double-jump boots or a loaf of bread that powers up Sydney’s dives can drastically change a run, but you’ll have to gather each of these anew every new run. With the procedurally-generated levels and fresh start that comes each time you leap from your ship, there’s a very specific learning curve in getting used to EarthNight. Sometimes the most thrilling games are when the experience applies to the player themselves.
Things get increasingly difficult the closer to Earth you get. Those lower atmosphere dragons can present a huge challenge that even the best power-ups can’t overcome. Getting to the Earth and fighting the EarthNight dragon is another tier of difficulty, a gauntlet of things that want nothing more than to prevent you from killing the great wolf-headed beast in front of you. Yet, with each failure, EarthNight presented the addicting ability to easily hit restart and go again. And again. And again. In fact, this game released back on January 23, and my best excuse for the later review is because I kept convincing myself I needed one more run to, uh, do the review. Yeah. In fact, maybe I’ll throw in another right now. Just to be safe.
Sights and Sounds of the Dragon Apocalypse
Sight and sound play a big part in EarthNight’s charm. The soundtrack is full of chiptune tracks and arcadey guitar riffs, catchy songs that have a visceral and intimate sound, like they were recorded in your buddy’s basement. You can choose to either always hear the chiptune versions, full versions, or a random mix of the two. There are more than 20 tracks in the game, though they are attached to the specific locations you are in, so you’ll get quite used to, and possibly sick of, the initial song that plays during the space dragon levels. As much as I love the music, I played so many runs of EarthNight that I eventually had to set the music volume to zero and open up Spotify instead. ProTip: If you want to add some variety to EarthNight’s excellent soundtrack, pull up the Sayonara Wild Hearts soundtrack. The winner of our 2019 video game soundtrack of the year pairs incredibly well with EarthNight’s gameplay.
EarthNight’s visuals don’t just look hand-painted. They are hand-painted. There are more than 10,000 frames of art and animation within the game that were each each painted by artist Mattahan (Paul Davey). This visual styling brings an incredible life to EarthNight that is absolutely delightful. The characters, dragons, and enemies are increasingly bizarre, but the auto-runner barely gives you time to process the weird enemy on the cloud attacking you with insults. That’s just EarthNight. Weird enemies and strange dragons. An assortment of crazy objects to collect. And running. Always running.
The backs of dragons hide plenty of secrets, from hidden collectibles to level warps. Just when I thought I’d seen everything that EarthNight had to offer, I’d run into another secret or just catch a glimpse of a secret just out of reach of my jumps. It’s these small elements that give EarthNight that classic arcade feel; the simplicity that hides complexity. Want to kill the mythic Moon dragon? You’ll have to play when there’s a full moon out in the real world to see it. There’s a lot more to EarthNight than just your typical run, and getting the game’s Platinum trophy is going to take a lot of practice, retries, and a dash of luck. EarthNight still holds secrets that I can’t yet figure out.
I’m hopelessly addicted to the dragon apocalypse. I willingly fling myself out of a ship onto the backs of dragons again and again. Sometimes the random nature of EarthNight can create runs that feel nigh impossible, but those are balanced out by the times when I do really well. There’s a certain momentum to removing the ability to go backward, creating zen in the utter chaos. EarthNight is the perfect blend of its elements—incredible visuals, a driving soundtrack, and fast-paced gameplay that is rewarding to learn. Slay just one dragon, and you can’t help but want to slay them all.
EarthNight review code provided by developer. Reviewed on a launch PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.