Editor’s Note: November 17th, 2015. While this review has had some format tweaks and grammar fixes, it doesn’t follow the A Paladin format that I later created. Please read the Steam-edition of this review if you’re interested. Otherwise, excuse some creaks. Thanks for reading!
- Genre: 2D Light Platformer, Exploration and Light Metroidvania
- Developed & Published by: Tiger Style
- Platform: Windows, Mac OSX, Linux, Android and iOS.
- Copy Purchased by Myself
What Is This Game?
Waking Mars is an adventure exploration 2D game. It was developed and published independently by Tiger Style on February 25, 2012 on the iOS App Store. It was then later released on Windows, Mac, Linux and Android on November 8, 2012. Its a game about exploring the depths of Mars, seeing alien lifeforms, exploring various ecosystems, surviving hazards and enjoying a calm story. It features only a single player campaign. In this review, I will only be giving my thoughts on the PC version of this game as I have not tried it out on any other platform but by all accounts this game should work just fine on other platforms. The real question is, is Waking Mars a good game? Well, I hope to answer that in this review…
History Of The Game and the Developers
Tiger Style is previously know for its game “Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor” which was successful on iOS. Waking Mars was the next game to come from them and it was another success for them as well. So, Tiger Style decided to release the Windows, Mac OSX, Linux and Android platform versions as a part of the Humble Indie Bundle for Android 4. For such a popular game, I had never heard of Waking Mars before that Bundle. It’s pretty well documented that I’ve had…issues…with iOS titles in the past. However, I decided to give the game a shot because I figured, why not? Here I am to talk about it.
The Game’s Story
The year is 2097 on Mars. You play as a astronaut named Liang who is accompanied by an AI named “ART”. He is teamed up with another astronaut named Amani who assists by analyzing the data he brings in and being helpful support. At first, Liang is at an outpost that was built for this mission to Mars to explore the Lethe caves. The mission is to find the alien life that had been detected by scouts years ago. Liang is a contemplative, quiet and loner kind of person and I quite liked his character. Amani is more of a upbeat, friendly kind of person. She acts as support and isn’t playable in the game though you’ll have plenty of conversations. She acts as the analyst and support from base camp. I liked her as well. ART is an artificial intelligence who speaks like he’s an AI from some bad 70s movie. ART…well, he’s “cute” at first but his computerized speech can get on your nerves as the game progresses. I would have liked it had they had changed his speech half way through the story. You’ll know why when you play the game. Despite that, I really liked how well these characters were done which is good as the game relies on them. The voice acting is also well done though ART’s is iffy due to the issues I mentioned earlier.
Liang and his team have been sent to Mars after an initial recon of the planet discovered life on the red planet. You play as Liang as he travels into the depths of the Mars caverns named “Lethe cavern”. There he will find the strange lifeforms and begin unraveling the mystery of Mars. The outpost he was working out of is destroyed due to an accident and Liang must return to base camp or run out of oxygen. The conditions on the surface of Mars are too harsh to travel over. So, Liang has to travel through the depths of Lethe cavern to reach the base camp. The caves are filled with dangerous hazards & deadly lifeforms but it also very much filled with life and intrigue for Liang. His curiosity leads him to continue exploring the depths of Lethe cavern. You’ll have to discover for yourself what those mysteries are. Its an enjoyable story really and the lack of violence really helps keep this game focused on exploration.
I did have one major issue with this game’s story however and that was the endings. I won’t spoil it much but it basically just ends rather abruptly, regardless of which ending you choose. No explanation for what will happen to the planet or the lifeforms you meet. No explanation for what waking up Mars will do for the planet or even the human society. Just nothing. It irritates me to end when a game leaves you hanging. I can’t tell if they didn’t know how to end the game or if they planned on doing a sequel. But either way, it was very annoying for a game like to end without explaining itself. After having such a solid story to suddenly like that was a bit of the slap in the face. I don’t like that and I wish game developers would quit doing that. Thanks.
The Game Settings and Misc Information
The PC port of this game is surprisingly solid. It comes with rebindable keys, joystick support, cinematic speed settings and resolution options. The resolution options were nicely varied and the game also featured resolution “auto-detect” which worked just fine. For the most part, the game stayed at a solid 60 FPS during gameplay though my CPU was taxed a little too hard if there was a lot of objects on-screen/immediate area. So it could have benefited from some more optimization. This game isn’t very graphically intense as is the norm for 2D games like these. You should be able to run this on most modern systems with a dual-core CPU and a decent gaming video card. So a well done PC port, settings wise, and I’m impressed considering that the devs don’t seem to have any PC experience. The game automatically saves as you go along plus you get several different save slots for anyone else that wants to play.
This is a really tricky game to talk about in too much depth because half of the fun of the game is figuring out the mechanics. I’ve decided to be deliberately vague in this review about the details of this game because I think you’ll find more enjoyment out of the game if you have to figure them out. The exploration this game features is nicely done and very rewarding. I really just got a kick out of exploring the game in general. As you explore the depths of Lethe cavern, your tasked with observing the various alien life & ecosystems and how they interact with each other. This will fill up your research menu with facts about the various lifeforms which is one of the ways you can complete this game. In each cave area, you have to reach a certain level of biomass in the area before you can move on. Something to keep in mind when your playing is that if whatever your doing to achieve that level of mass is really difficult or time consuming, your probably doing it wrong. As such, you should rethink your strategy. Which I liked that the game was forgiving in that respect. You also don’t automatically regenerate your limited pool of health but you find a way to and it for the most part keeps you from dying most of the time. As I mentioned above, the game does end abruptly and the gameplay up to that end does start to get a bit stale. It felt like the devs weren’t quite sure how to end the game so they just ended as best as they could. You lost that sense of wondrous exploration the closer to the end of the game you got. A pity really, but up until that point the game is nicely done.
Looking at Graphics and Aesthetics
The graphics of Waking Mars….well, they work for the game. However, its pretty obvious that its roots are iOS. Some of the creatures you come across have moving parts and it looks like their parts are attached by thread and pins and it doesn’t look very realistic. They’re nicely detailed enough but lack…something about them. I can’t put my finger on it. A lot of the background is a mash-up of low texture art without a lot of depth to them. And many of the backgrounds just felt like a different shade of red when you would change with the different rooms. This is supposed to be an alien planet we’re exploring but I found myself unimpressed by many of the visuals in the background. We’ve had a few 2D platformer games come out recently that have had really well done art in the background of them but Waking Mars doesn’t hold a candle to them. Again, the art and graphics work for the game but don’t expect to be too impressed by them.
Sound, Music and Everything You Hear
Sounds were ok. They did their job of being distinctive and appropriate to the game in general. The music itself was competent with its other-worldly feel to it and atmospheric beat. It wasn’t my favorite soundtrack to listen to and at times was a bit jarring to listen to. I get that sometimes musicians like to experiment with the OST in games such as these but I don’t feel like it was pulled off very well with some of the tracks. Some tracks were just downright bizarre to listen to and pulled you out of the game. You can check it out for yourself:
Bugs, Errors or Things Gone Wrong
The sound was having quite a number of issues as I played the game. At random times, the music and/or sound effects would suddenly start looping for no reason. You could fix this by restarting the game though so it was an easy enough fix but it still cropped up from time to time.
Waking Mars is a well done exploration adventure game. One of the most enjoyable exploration games to come around in a while. Tiger Style managed to make a game that was only about exploration fun and challenging at the same time and I have to give kudos. The characters were also interesting people to get to know. I also have to give them kudos for making a quality PC game from an iOS port. It’s refreshing to see iOS app devs take care in the porting of their games. All that said, Waking Mars is an enjoyable game through the depths of a fictional Mars. While the game has some problems, the core of the game is a very solid experience. If you have any interest in exploration or adventure games, you should give Waking Mars a try.
I hope you guys enjoyed this review as much as I enjoyed creating it. Please hit the Like button or leave a comment if you did and until next time…