The apocalypse has arrived and dragons have brought it about, surrounding their ravaged quarry like roving, satisfied tendrils. Meanwhile, the wrecked Earth’s former inhabitants have found shaky shelter in spaceships, retrieving their planet’s various junk, objects, and water sources left behind swirling in the stratosphere after the fracas, chunks of evidence clotted above dragonflesh, patrolled by a variety of dangerous creatures. In the wake of the Dragon Apocalypse, two heroes stand in the way of these fearsome, slithering beasts: Stanley, a freelance photographer with a quick sword, and a young Jamaican schoolgirl named Sydney inhabited by a magical entity.
Sydney’s fierce resolve is captured beautifully in Cleaversoft’s EarthNight‘s large banner at PAX East, decked out in contemporary Jamaican school apparel. The design for the game is such an immediate, absorbing pull, it betrays the surprisingly elaborate depth, with layered progression mechanics featuring pickups, item combinations, unlockable power-ups, a plethora of secrets, and other roguelike wrinkles to this platformer.
Rich Siegel, the head developer, is constantly cagey about what’s new or yet to be revealed, offering tantalizing hints at secrets still hidden from the PAX East demo which, otherwise, has a myriad of tantalizing unlockables already in play.
“We straddled the line between a game that a casual player could enjoy, and a hardcore player could play for the rest of their life. It’s taken forever to get there, and we’re not 100% done–we’re not shipped yet–but I think we’re closer to fulfilling that promise.”
This newest edition of EarthNight bowled me over, with the gamefeel extremely tight and the visuals at their absolute best, delivering an experience which doesn’t look like anything else in existence. “That’s all due to Paul Davey’s art,” Siegel explains. “This style is Paul’s beautiful art style…and the character of Sydney is also loosely based on his little sister.”
EarthNight is both the title of the game as well as the name of the final level, denoted on the map as a spinning earth silhouette in an abstract map progression on the far left of the screen. The player can, technically, navigate their way through EarthNight‘s gorgeous fully animated skydive level-select to the final stage (or close to it, at least), though they’ll experience an immense challenge if they do so without unlocks.
This represents the most significant layer to EarthNight‘s developing gameplay loop: a new room added to the lobby/starting screen which allows players to review unlocked content, upgrade individual items and power-ups using collected water as currency between playthroughs, and even a bizarrely intricate “water stock market” of sorts which will variate values day by day.
When I first saw the game, and saw the stills, all I could tell was that this was a Black girl magic game par example. The character of Sydney isn’t an abstract pixel representation, but a well-defined recognizable Black youth kicking dragon ass.
“She’s a dragon slayer…and she’s host to an evil dragon spirit which is living inside of her. She’s essentially a Super Saiyan.”
The general gameplay loop of EarthNight involves running through imaginatively gorgeous scrolling environments, where you jump, fight, and navigate your way over dragons, dodging and killing enemies, maintaining combos, picking up tools to help your progression, and collecting various bits of scraps to fill a water tank. In between runs after each death, you can return to your spaceship to use that water to unlock additional powerups and tools, upgrade existing unlocks, and investigate what you’ve found so far.
All the objects in the vibrant background, the pickups, and various other bits and bobs in EarthNight contribute to the incidental storytelling and lore in the game, aspects which have only increased in complexity since the start of development (EarthNight has been in development for approximately five years so far). Siegel explains that the current expectation is a very early 2019 release, kicking off on the PS4 and PS Vita. Doubtful onlookers be avised: he’s never been forthcoming with an expectant release date with me before, so I consider this reveal a trustworthy tip!
EarthNight is sure to introduce players to a darkly fantastic, challenging experience in an impressively fully-hand-animated world. Creatively imaginative and tightly responsive, players can expect an “endful” runner which is fresh on each restart; also, it should be mentioned that Siegel is always quick to articulate how, though informed by the mechanics of endless runner games, EarthNight has a decisive finale which sets it apart from the genre.
Thwart the Dragon Apocalypse in early 2019!
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Leonardo Faierman is the senior film editor at Black Girl Nerds. Born in Buenos Aires, raised in Queens, Bar Mitzvah'd at Young Israel, buried under student loans. He writes video game, music, film, and movie reviews, as well as poetry, comic books, bad dreams and good copy. He's 1/5th of the comics podcast #BlackComicsChat and 1/2 of horror film podcast The Scream Squad.