Developers Tiger Style have enjoyed considerable success with their adventure title Waking Mars since its initial release on iOS. Having moved to a wide array of platforms including Android, Steam, Desura, Mac and Linux, the game is readily available in many forms. We’ll be looking at the Android release and whether this touch screen version is still the best means by which to explore the caverns of Mars.
Waking Mars wastes no time in plunging you into its story. Liang, the player character, is a scientist based on Mars in the near future and he is researching a set of caves teeming with life beneath the planet’s surface. The narrative is delivered through extensive conversations between Liang and his support team: the upbeat and reassuring Amani and the humorously awkward A.I. ART. These audio conversations are accompanied by dynamic portraits which change depending on the mood of the speaking character. These still images convey a surprising depth of personality when they are combined with the dialogue.
The gameplay itself initially seems to be based around little more than exploring the caves with your jetpack while avoiding the various hazards throughout. This simplicity soon evaporates however, as you find seeds which can be planted into fertile terrain to grow various life-forms that interact with one another in interesting ways. Each area has a biomass level which you need to reach in order to unlock the path to the next section. To do this you need to plant a sufficient number of seeds and grow life everywhere you can.
Things become more interesting as you find more complicated forms of life and discover the ways in which they interact with each other. Some plants produce more seeds when you expose them to water seeds from another plant, some are harmful to you if you touch them and others are carnivorous, feeding on mobile life-forms which you can also help to produce. Waking Mars reaches a point where the gameplay is less about puzzling out how to produce enough life and more about managing your own self-sustaining ecosystems. This is a relaxing experience that is supported by the slow but purposeful progression of the plot.
The control system is, of course, based around touch and so you’ll sometimes find your finger or stylus blocking your view. More troubling is the slow method by which you have to select and throw seeds; three touches are required to open the menu, select a seed and then throw it. This means that you’ll often have to find a safe, stationary perch before you launch a seed at fertile terrain. This isn’t too much of an issue as the game isn’t a fast paced action title but it is a slightly cumbersome control system.
A strong set of menus help you to keep track of your seed types, their effects and the plants that they grow into. There is also a comprehensive map that helps you to avoid getting lost in the sometimes labyrinthine caves under Mars. This lonely setting is supported by a subtle ambient score which resonates well with the calm and reflective demeanor of Liang. The visuals are simple but varied, providing a wide spectrum of rocky environments.
Waking Mars is an excellent adventure game with unusually gentle gameplay mechanics and some well portrayed characters. The process of growing plants and building functional ecosystems sits between light puzzling and therapeutic creation. This placid gameplay coupled with the measured pace of the narrative makes for an enjoyably relaxing adventure title that is easily worth your attention.
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
Waking Mars offers a refreshingly creative gameplay experience, placing you in the shoes of an exploring scientist as he unlocks the life beneath the surface of Mars piece by piece. The mobile version features a touch screen interface that may seem cumbersome to players who have experienced this game on PC but the chance to pick up this calming title on the move is one that shouldn’t be missed.