Editor's Rating

A great game balancing several different features, and with a surprisingly deep story. But as deep as that story is, the game built itself to discourage replaying.

Replay Value

It was just yesterday that the rover Curiosity touched down on Mars, so I thought I’d make an appropriate article. It was a game recommended to me a couple of months ago, but I’ve never had the chance to play it. After the historic scientific success, though, I couldn’t resist.

A Game That Combines Completely Different Genres

The game is called Waking Mars, an iOS game by Tiger Style unlike any I’ve played yet. As Dr. Liang, you have to hunt for as drone that has gone missing somewhere on the surface of Mars. Because of this, you have to explore the deep recesses of Mars’ maze-like caves, using a jetpack to navigate. The sidecsrolling nature of it reminds me of the older Metroid and Castlevania games. However, it’s not long into your search before you make a discovery: plant life on Mars! The plants, called the Zoa, quickly become useful, as you need to use them to go deeper into the saves. The way further is blocked until you can raise enough life in the area. However, that’s not quite so simple. UnlikeFarmville, where there’s little to no thinking necessary, each of the various lifeforms have specific needs and interactions. Everything from how much water to use to soil acidity is necessary to learn about how to raise a Zoa, and most important is how each different plant affects another. One plant might be food for another, or pollinate another, or others are predatory species that, if left unchecked, will devour its surroundings. You have to use each plant to create enough biomass to continue on, so you have to carefully balance them to create a mini ecosystem. It’s an organic, constantly changing puzzle to find out how to use the resources and alien life in the right way to sustain life. Because of this, there are different ways to solve each area, so, like real science, experimentation is necessary. All of these game elements flow smoothly into each other. With each new area, you have new requirements for going further, and have to explore to find the proper resources. After exploring, you have to carefully setup the ecosystem to be self-sustaining, and watch as it continues to grow, making slight adjustments as need be. At first, I thought it’d be tedious, but there’s so much activity with the Zoa that my full-attention was devoted to watching and maintaining them. Each time I passed into a new area, there was a real sense of accomplishment because each way to solve a puzzle is up to personal interpretation, and the results are unique each time.


Being Immersed In The Loneliness Of The Red Planet

Liang isn’t alone in his mission. He has an assistant, Amani, as well as an A.I. system, ART. However, Liang is alone in the caves, and all communication with others is indirect. At first, his companions frequently talk with Liang, giving hints and advice early in thew game. But the more you progress, the less they communicate with you. Soon, you go entire areas with just the Zoa for company. As Liang himself is a silent character most of the time, a feeling of loneliness begins to develop. This loneliness is magnified by the increasing expansiveness of each area, as well as the gorgeous, understated soundtrack. Even though you’re on a planet that is in fact teeming with life, you begin to understand the loneliness of space. It’s a great mood set by the game, and an effective one that stays with you as you continue to play. Instead of interaction between characters like in most games, you’ll eventually find yourself instead quietly contemplating the environment, performing tests and making mental notes as a real scientist should. It’s a great break from most science-fiction games.

It’s not long before you realize how expansive the game really is.

A Beautiful Game, But With Interesting Flaws

The game is definitely gorgeous. The stark, ever-present redness of the landscape is sharply contrasted by the Zoa, which have lots of different shapes and colors. However, the game sets itself up in a way that discourages replay. There are different routes the story (which is surprisingly deep) can take, so at first you’d expect to need to replay it to see the different ways it can end, but instead, the game allows you to load your cleared game data and begin from the end.

Also, the game isn’t difficult. There is some thinking needed to progress, but you’ll quickly get the hang of it. And for those areas that are too confusing, you can often force your way through. Because the game counts the number of Zoa you have, rather than the effectiveness of the system you built, I managed to make temporary fixes that met the quantity requirement, but wouldn’t have lasted very long. For a game where balance is the core game mechanic, it seems like a pretty big loophole.

Also, although I liked the character of Miang, there was something about her art that just seemed off. It was as if her profile was done in a completely different style than Liang’s. She wasn’t badly designed, but it was definitely distracting.

These complaints are relatively minor, though. The game, being around 7 hours long for me, is one of the longest and most engaging available in the App Store. And rather than relying on a single gimmick of mechanic to carry the gameplay, the game sports several, and requires you to constantly shift between them. And, as the game is currently only $1.99, it’s probably the most affordable for your money right now. And hey, we’ve landed on Mars! In the future, this story might be more science fact than fiction.


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