The ocean is deep, dark, and treacherous.

What it is not, is blue.

So what we have here is Earth Atlantis, a shiny new game from Pixel Perfex. The setup and premise is fairly straightforward: Things have, essentially, gone to shit. The polar ice caps are as melted as the ice cubes in my drink, and have utterly submerged 96% of the Earth's surface in water. Somehow in this process, all the fish also became robotic and very, very angry. I'm going to be entirely honest with you, I'm not entirely sure how we get from A to B on this one, but I'm going to accept it for the purposes of discussion.

The actual gameplay that follows from this is a 2D horizontal shmup, playing very much in a classic style...But as you can see from the screenshots, instead of leaning into retro pixel art, the game's screenshots look like something out of a Leonardo da Vinci fever dream. And just like the graphics take a shift from what you'd expect "vintage" to mean, so too does the gameplay shift from quite what you'd expect when I say "2D horizontal shmup".

Now of course, it's still 2D, it's still horizontal, and you are still shooting 'em up, as the name implies. The big change is one we've seen in a few games before; instead of having a steady progression to the right, Earth Atlantis puts you into a large but fixed space to navigate, with a button to turn around your facing and, in turn, put your primary weapons where they need to be. While this is hardly an oh-my-god new innovation never before seen by the likes of mere mortal man, it's certainly a rare setup, having largely fallen by the wayside in favor of more straightforward stage design that...well...makes you go straight forward.

The next thing is in how it uses this dual-direction arrangement. Instead of having smaller stages, you have a massive, sprawling maze that your major power-ups and your boss enemies spawn in, with a steady threat of running into a school of robo-fish as you explore the deep dark undersea world. With attacks possibly coming from every angle, you've got to constantly be ready to shift your little submarine around, dodging strikes and firing your various weapons into the swarm to survive, get strong, and hunt down the big beasts of the deep.

It's a lot of really solid concepts. The minute to minute gameplay is well-executed, the sound design is a bit straightforward but perfectly functional, and of course the graphics are really really slick looking.

...And yet it's like halfway through the review and I'm summing things up. That's not a good sign, is it.

So...here's the thing. Earth Atlantis's many decisions are really cool in isolate, or in five minutes of play, but they don't entirely handle scaling up to a home experience, at least for me. And I do want to emphasize, in this particular case, how much these are my own personal hangups.

The best example of this I can give you, is to illustrate how play starts.

So you pick your submarine, you spawn in at the spawn point...And you have two sets of things to go find. Sub-weapon icons scattered across the maze-like map, and boss battles.

There are two key problems with this.

The first is that your map only gives you relative locations. There's no layout details whatsoever, so figuring out how to actually get from where you are to the sub-weapon is an exercise for the reader. But, hey, let's assume you go get some awesome power-ups. You get the random drop ones that put your normal gun to maximum power, you make sure your health is full, and you go navigate to one of the bosses.

Who breaks you against the rocks like an adorable otter getting at clam meat.

You proceed to respawn, back at the start point, with no gear, no power-ups, back to baseline.

Guess what? You have to do that whole initial process again. It's a grind where you can't even keep the numbers after. It's, if I may borrow the words of noted game analyst Bob Mackey, being punished by having to do something easy over again before you can try the thing you failed at.

And this wrinkle in the gameplay loop is, quite frankly, the central problem with Earth Atlantis...But it's also a wrinkle that can't be smoothed out without fundamentally altering the game.

See, I'm going to play amateur game designer for a second. Your classic shmup either has a fairly short progression ramp (or none at all), or focuses on breadth and options rather than depth. They also make use of pattern-based enemy loadouts, where things like power-up drops are very consistent; either they come at the end of a pattern, or they come from specific marked enemies.

These combine so that, even in a game where you get sent back to a checkpoint rather than respawning right there with limited lives, you have a quick, measured way to get back into fighting shape, with a direct path to your enemy and whatever took you out. This is a design built, from top to bottom, for keeping a steady stream of progression and what I will call "active gameplay".

Earth Atlantis's choices stack up to break that stream. Fail to beat a boss, and you're off to go find randomly spawning enemies to get them to drop randomly spawning power-ups, maybe pick up some of the big fixed ones if they're fairly close to the spawn point, and have another go at figuring out how to beat the thing.

And through all of this, you're going to run into the game's other sneaky little problem...That awesome art style is in full monochrome. The result is that picking out enemies, attacks, and generally keeping sense of a constantly changing landscape can slip away from you. I've lost count of the number of ground-hugging enemies or mines that have managed to do damage to me, simply because they blended in too effectively with the terrain.

So that kind of puts me in a pickle. I mean, real-talk, these issues run deep enough, and are going to be divisive enough, that I can't give the game a firm recommendation. But at the same time, I think the game tries a lot of really interesting stuff, even if its reach perhaps exceeds its grasp.

Which, I guess, creates a question for you. Are you the type of person who's willing to put some cash in on an ambitious effort to support future work? Or are you the type of person who wants that extra layer of polish on the game, and establishment from the company, before you're willing to lay down your dollar? Because to me, that's what you're really doing here. You're putting in the coin to encourage this company to make another attempt, instead of just shutting down or going back to smartphone mindfulness apps.

Either way, it's your call.