Following a 2016 release on other platforms (and known as Earth’s Dawn in the West – it has been self-published on Switch, hence its original name), Japanese developer One Or Eight brings its 2D side-scrolling slash ’em up Earth Wars to Nintendo Switch, with moody, post apocalyptic sci-fi backdrop, a mix of old school brawling and varied skill-based progression.
Right from the start, Earth Wars attempts to generate a traditional RPG feel, giving you a few options when you create your heroic avatar. You can choose from eight male or eight female oversized characters and, curiously, also a set of voice sound effects. Whether your hero is brow furrowing or high heel heel wearing is of little practical relevance, as they all have a very similar attack set up, a disjointed, puppet like animation and overt design.
Regardless, the action is where Earth Wars will grab you or not, and that will ultimately come down to your level of perseverance. Initially, Earth Wars might generate interest because it seems like a 2D sci-fi Devil May Cry – jumping, dashing and juggling enemies to stack up points or using a range of weapons, but with a boat load of customisation thrown in for good measure.
In terms of combat, the game does a good job of periodically introducing new moves and a constant stream of extra body parts to customise weapons with. While the combat is satisfying to learn and master, but there’s often instances where it will be an ‘all or nothing’ experience. Once a group of enemies has been wiped out, you’ll more than likely not interact with anything else until you return to a spawn point.
It isn’t very long until your progression will be halted by monstrous difficulty spikes, requiring you to complete some blandly designed levels multiple times in order to open up the necessary skill levels to continue. The result is replaying missions that are derivative, and swatting down hordes of inconsequential enemies only to be obliterated and blindsided by something ludicrously overpowered.
The game’s story is a pretty standard ‘battle to save humanity’ affair, with the dialogue spoken in Japanese and subtitled in English. A crack team of elite soldiers called the A.N.T.I are drafted in to save the world from an invasion of mutant creatures known as E.B.E. Although you do navigate through the game as a team of four, they miraculously and conveniently go off to ‘fight their own battles’ when you engage in combat. In addition to your mysteriously absent squad members, there are the generic set of supporting characters, such as the stern military captain, or the institutionalised (and deranged looking) nurse. They used purely as exposition and appear in jarringly animated and oddly saturated cutscenes.
Moving from place to place to eradicate the threat to mankind, it is from the powerful E.B.E that you will gather various body parts in order to craft and customise your biomechanical armour, melee and bullet heavy weapons. Early on, you’ll be visiting and revisiting very similar environments, with little change in the structure of the level or missions. The missions are short, and here are a few deviations, such as timed challenges or find a particular item, but most of the time unlockable areas are cordoned off by giant glowing red cubes, and the camera gets a little too close in at times, which can result in getting blind sighted by more powerful enemies. Later on in the game, the environments do get more varied and vibrant, and the main bosses don’t fail to impress, despite their 2D presentation and segmented movement.
Upon looting enemies and completing missions, you’ll receive various rank based statistics and points to exchange for attributes which are used in the games huge skill tree, represented as a brain, divided into attack, defence and so on. If this stat heavy looting and grinding is your thing, then you’ll get a lot more out of it than if you’re just here for the fast paced action.
Earth wars might just be taking too much inspiration from the Vanillaware games, rather than fully realising its own merits, because the combat is fun, the crafting is deep and skill system is interesting. What is frustrating is the bland characterisation, uninspired level design and repeated mission structure.
There’s a decent amount of fun to be had with Earth Wars before a degree of monotony sets in. What starts out as a pretty slick, if straightforward 2D side-scrolling brawler fleshed out by a huge wealth of loot to gather, weapons to customise and skill stats to unlock, It never moves the needle far enough in either variety or innovation to truly hold interest for extended periods. Sure, there’s just enough nuance in the combat and giant bosses to slay to you keep coming back, but the uninspired missions and derivative characters never let it realise its full potential.