EarthNight is an endless runner set on the back of a frikkin’ dragon [Review]

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EarthNight brings all the dragons you could hope for. And it's beautifully hand-painted.
This beautifully hand-painted game delivers all the dragons you could hope for.
Image: Cleaversoft

An endless runner with gorgeous hand-painted graphics, in which you sprint on the backs of enormous flying dragons? Welcome to the world of EarthNight, one of the plentiful launch titles for Apple Arcade.

Put on your running shoes and let us race you through its features in our EarthNight review.

EarthNight review: This endless racer doesn’t drag(on)

Ever since I played Panzer Dragoon on the criminally underrated Sega Saturn, I’ve been a sucker for games that feature dragons. A niche? Sure. But Apple Arcade, which presents titles from a slew of interesting indie developers, is all about niches.

EarthNight is the work of indie studio Cleaversoft. It’s a procedurally generated endless runner in which you pick between two characters, Stanley and Sydney. Each level starts with you skydiving from space and landing on the back of a dragon, which you then proceed to sprint along for the duration of the level. As you run, the dragon’s back undulates with its flight, occasionally hurling you into the air.

Along the way, you collect power-ups and avoid obstacles and enemies. The game’s two characters have slightly different abilities. Sydney possesses a double jump and mid-air dash. Stanley, meanwhile, has separate long and high jumps. The difference between the two characters gives the game more replay value as you try to master both styles.

Simply gorgeous gameplay

In Earthnight, each level starts with you skydiving down to your next target
Each level starts with you skydiving down to your next target.
Image: Cleaversoft

EarthNight is playable using either a controller or the game’s on-screen touch controls. I opted for the latter, and found it to be an intuitive experience. The game is relatively slight in terms of its duration, so you should be able to complete it in one (not particularly epic) sitting. But there are plenty of reasons to go back and revisit it. Especially since the procedurally generated aspect of its design means you get a new experience each time.

And the game looks gorgeous. Its 2D graphics have a certain retro-fuelled nostalgia to them. But they’re brought up-to-date with hand-drawn art courtesy of Paul “Mattahan” Davey. According to Cleaversoft, Davey painted 10,000-plus frames of art and animation. There’s also an energetic and atmospheric chiptune soundtrack by Paul “Chipocrite” Weinstein.

The result is an incredibly neat package that should appeal to anyone seeking a quirky endless runner to while away their commute to work.

There’s not too much that I didn’t enjoy about EarthNight. It’s not the kind of game you’ll spend hours on in the manner of, say, a Civilization title. But that’s not the point of an endless runner. It’s meant as a sprint, preferably through some interesting (and occasionally challenging) terrain.

I died plenty of times while playing, but it didn’t feel cheap. The learning curve meant that I rapidly improved. And replaying levels that look this good is not exactly a chore.

Exclusive to Apple Arcade … kind of

One note: This is yet another example of an “exclusive” Apple Arcade game that’s, well, not exactly exclusive. At least not in the way that most people use the term. EarthNight is also coming to Nintendo Switch, PS4 and Steam in 2019. It’s “exclusive” to Apple Arcade in that it’s not going to be made available on one of the two main mobile operating systems.

To my way of thinking, that’s not exclusive. It means that it’s not available on Android. Since Apple is the company talking about exclusivity, this isn’t a knock on Cleaversoft. But it is a reminder that you don’t have to be an Apple Arcade subscriber to play this.

EarthNight review summary

Would I ultimately recommend EarthNight? Yes, I would. It’s a slick, stylish indie game that I can absolutely see appealing to a lot of people. I don’t think it’s a game that wouldn’t have existed in the days before Apple Arcade (there have been plenty of great endless runners before EarthNight). But I don’t think this is a title that is necessarily trying to reinvent the wheel.

Sometimes the wheel doesn’t need reinventing. It just needs to look and sound nice, and land on the back of a dragon.

Price: Free with Apple Arcade subscription

Download: App Store (iOS)