First Impressions: Earth Saver
Posted by Sean Aaron
Dig Dug II: a new action film from Michael Bay
Tom Create are no strangers to the Nintendo download scene having released a WiiWare "card battle" game and three budget DSiWare games last year. Earth Saver was the last DSiWare game from them in 2009: a puzzle game with a play mechanic very much like Namco's Dig Dug II, but a setting like a millennial disaster flick.
The Earth is threatened by a massive asteroid; thankfully orbital defence systems have blown it up, but now large chunks of it need to be blasted into smaller bits lest they destroy the world! Enter the Earth Saver: by strategically placing bombs along various cracks you can break off meteors small enough to burn up in Earth's atmosphere and save the day.
Both screens are used in this little puzzle game: up top is where the gameplay happens whilst the bottom screen shows a view of Earth and vital stats like your score, Earth's "Endurance" and the time remaining to clear the level. After a brief intro of a little egg-shaped spacecraft dropping your astronaut (presumably an oil rig worker — we understand they're good at blowing up space rocks) at the base of the remarkably rectangular asteroid chunk the game begins. You move with the d-pad and place bombs along "cracks" in the rock with the A button. After exploding, your bombs will send out little shock waves in every direction splitting links to the rest of the rock. Once all linkage to the rest of the structure is broken, freed chunks will fall down to the Earth in the bottom screen. You don't have a great deal of time to achieve your goal so quick thinking is required!
Of course you might think you could cut things short by simply blasting away the bits around your ship and be done with it, but anything larger than 21 metric tons won't burn up in the atmosphere and will instead leave a massive crater in the Earth taking off at least one endurance point out of five total. If the piece is big enough it may result in "Armageddon," so you need to be mindful of that; especially in later levels that feature "gas pockets" and aliens which explode like bombs if they're hit by bomb explosions, causing chain reactions that can see your astronaut on an express ride to hell (Earth) if he happens to be on what is now a meteor! Pressing the B button will show you the size of adjacent chunks to help you judge the potentially "deep impact" of planting your bombs.
Later levels have pre-existing cracks, making the possibility of an express ride home more real due to poorly thought-out bomb placement or big chain bonuses when you get it right. You'll also encounter reinforced cracks that require two explosions to break open — pay attention lest you accidentally break off a meteor the size of Manhattan! Initially you have less than a minute to blast the asteroids to bits, but you get more time as the levels get larger and larger. Running out of time or hitting the Earth with too large a meteorite will end the game, but if your astronaut is killed for some other reason you merely lose one of your stock of five lives and restart the level from scratch. As you complete levels you automatically progress to the next and you can freely start play at any level you've previously reached. Your best times and scores are recorded and visible in the level select screen, but there's no configurable options or other play modes.
The graphics are quite nice considering this is a 200 Point title, with a decent level of detail in the game part and a 2D Earth model that looks like an airbrushed painting with great effects for large meteorite strikes. We especially enjoyed seeing your little astronaut riding down to Earth after messing up and causing a chain reaction that broke off the rock piece he was standing on. Audio is pretty good with decent explosions for the bombs and thundering booms for the meteorite hits.
The in-game text explaining the set-up before each level is rendered in Japanese and passable English, so it's quite import-friendly and has possibly been developed with a mind to export it. Certainly if it does show up outside of Japan it will make for a decent budget puzzler. We all love those, don't we?