Earth Atlantis is a side-scrolling shooter with a unique hunting/exploring concept that takes the player to an apocalyptic Earth where the sea is infested with creatures that appear both biological and mechanical. The mission is to find giant sea monsters that have terrorized previous adventures to the depths and eliminate the threat; a mission that is surprisingly difficult.
Before a mechanical fish has been shot, the sheer beauty of the art-style sketches a subtle hint of the journey that’s ahead. Painted in a peerless monochrome shading, the visuals provide the bleak atmosphere that they intend, creating a setting that is both as unsettling as it is rejuvenating. There are two layers, one which the player is interacting with, and the background that the mechanical fish can interact with. This provides two worlds which the enemies can interchange between, and so what happens in the background can suddenly appear in the foreground. This two-layer system creates a stunning visual complex, with notable landmarks like the Statue of Liberty in the background looking as ancient as a Mayan temple does today. The attempt to create the look of an ‘old explorer’s sketchbook’ has certainly been realized, and the sense of discovery leaves a disorientation as finding paths amongst the wreckages is made much more challenging by the way the colors blend together.
Some of the mechanical beasts met on the journey use the unique art-style to their advantage, with mechanical crabs and sea anemone blending into the seabed, with often just their missiles a sign of their existence. The vast array of foes with different abilities creates a challenge, especially as much of the journey will consist of maneuvering in claustrophobic conditions, with only the speed of your reflexes helping you survive the onslaught of aquatic robots. A clever design leaves an organized mess of the creatures, spawning a variety of foes at once that leads the player needing to perform several strategies at once to deal with the different styles of offense; quick jellyfish, missile-firing angelfish, and electric anglerfish can all attack at the same time. This chaos is somehow seamlessly tidied, with some creatures notably only spawning in some areas of the map.
The map itself shows very little, designed like a sonar system that only shows dots and crosses. The crosses represent where the boss creatures are hiding, while the spots represent power-up items to find. The map merely hints at the direction to take but doesn’t actually pinpoint a route. This gives the player an idea of where to go next but maintains the sense of discovery and mystery that Earth Atlantis prides itself on.
The difficulty itself hits a new level when a boss creature is found. Each boss requires a unique strategy, which is odd for a game that plays in a similar mechanic to Nishikado’s Space Invaders. Whilst the only actions are shoot and move, each boss requires different positioning and maneuverability strategies to overcome them. Notably, the Siren is much agiler than the Takodon, however, the Takodon was confined in a much smaller space with a harpoon rising from the ground that would instantly kill you. The Siren, therefore, required quick movement across the battleground, while the Takodon confrontation relied on a much more careful approach with eyes fixed on the bubbles on the seabed, hinting where the harpoon would rise next.
Whilst a variation of enemies and breathless animation makes Earth Atlantis enjoyable, there is a slight lack of deviation in the gameplay. There are several other submarines to unlock, but the core mechanics stay the same. Most of the time the player can hold down ZR to shoot and just drift around between the foes, changing which direction they face with LR depending on the location of the enemies. And with enough power upgrades, LR can become obsolete as the submarine begins to fire in both directions.
With that in mind, the challenge becomes not dying. Earth Atlantis is unforgiving and one mistake leaves the player back at a start point with none of their upgrades. Facing a boss without any upgrades is suicide, and being killed by a boss fully upgraded is still a regular occurrence. This means that before entering a boss location, the player will need to find and kill as many creatures as possible in the hope they drop enough upgrades to be ready for the boss fight. It becomes a recurring process, once which becomes more repetitive the more difficult the boss is. The challenge can be frustrating, but that’s also a major strength as it provides a nostalgic aura to the arcade era; it certainly provides a motivation to overcome one of the giant mechanical beasts.
Earth Atlantis, however, needs no motivation to play. It’s a beautiful game, with a stunning visual concept that must be played to be witnessed. The audio interwinds with the visuals to create the mechanical, apocalyptic setting that the game wants to project. This challenging game has found a new quirky tangent in the classic side-scrolling shooter and it shouldn’t be left ignored beneath the waves of Plato’s imagination.