Waking Mars is a fascinating game. As children, so many of us dreamt of travelling the stars, exploring distant planets, and uncovering the mysteries of the universe around us. Since the dawn of time, people have been captivated by Mars and have always wondered what could be on that big red rock millions of miles away. And while the rover Curiosity is there now, wheeling its way across its surface, Waking Mars takes us further. With great imagination it takes us deep into the caverns of the Red Planet where no human has ever gone before.
Set in 2097, you play as Liang, a researcher who finds himself in a bind when he is separated from his colleague Amani and is forced to find his way through the cavernous underworld beneath the Martian surface. Armed with his space suit and a handful of seeds, you progress through the caverns by cultivating miniature ecosystems that produce the game’s primary resource, Biomass. This resource is generated by planting various types of seeds in soil that is found lining the cavern walls, which results in the growth of unique forms of plant life. Each seed type grows its own plant that can range from a flowering fern to a fire-breathing menace. The brilliance of Waking Mars’ gameplay resides in the fact that while each plant is wildly unique, they are each essential to the development of the Martian ecosystem. As such, each plant will have a role to play as you progress through the game. Thankfully, the game features a detailed research codex that keeps track of the plants’ unique characteristics that you discover throughout the course of the game. You often learn more about the plants through experimenting with different seed combinations and through the plants’ interaction with the various Martian elements. I found this process to be as rewarding as it was informative.
Preventing you from simply jetpacking wherever you want are columns called “cerebrane”, which act as barriers to new sections of the cave network. Once enough biomass has been generated by both plant and animal life, the cerebrane retreats into the walls of the cavern, allowing you to venture forth. While that sounds simple enough, you will have to find the right balance between the different types of Martian flora due to the fact that each plant not only has its own function, but also provides a unique amount of biomass.
Jetpacking through Waking Mars is a blast thanks in large part to the wonderfully pleasant art style. While the color palette is dominantly red as you might expect, Tiger Style Games has done a great job creatively incorporating other colors within the game world. Key locations often have a touch of exotic color while the different types of flora often have colorful accents that help you identify them at a quick glance. The result is a believable Martian environment that still looks vibrant and lively. Adding to the quality presentation is the engaging dialogue. While the character portraits are both stunning and surprisingly expressive, the voice acting is equally strong. Each of the main characters are likable, but easily the most memorable character in the story is ART, you resourceful AI companion. If you don’t love ART, you simply aren’t capable of love.
While the art style is fantastic, some of the animations are not. I felt that the main character Liang’s animations were a little stiff, especially when interacting with various rock formations. Further, while there’s no doubting that Waking Mars’ gameplay is unique and engaging, it can start to feel tedious as you reach the later stages of the game. This is due to the fact that even though the story continues to keep you interested and new environmental considerations are introduced, progress almost always seems to simply come down to generating enough biomass so that the cerebranes disappear. Interestingly enough, while the game is relatively short, it doesn’t drag on and ends at an appropriate time. Furthermore, the branching non-linear quest structure and multiple endings will give you a reason to revisit the Martian underworld in the future.
Waking Mars is an enjoyable, atmospheric adventure that we’d recommend for anyone who has ever wondered what flying through the caves of Mars might be like. Its gameplay is creative and unique, and the characters will keep you motivated to continue trekking into the unknown.
+ Pleasant art style
+ Great characters and dialogue
+ Unique setting with engaging research
+ Multiple endings help replayability
- A few stiff animations
- Gameplay is interesting but can become stale near the end
Waking Mars is an enjoyable experience that combines quality storytelling with a captivating atmosphere. If you’ve ever wanted to find life on Mars, here’s your chance.