If you were to combine Metroid with Harvest Moon, the end result would probably end up something like Waking Mars. It was released by Tiger Style and is available on iOS and Android.

It's pretty interesting to see an exploratory platformer in a touch screen format. I was even surprised that the controls were able to fluidly work with the rest of the game fairly well. That was until the game started throwing me nothing but narrow corridors and haunting memories of claustrophobia, but I digress.

You are an astronaut named Liang in the year 2097 on a mission to explore the beautiful and mysterious planet Mars. Accompanied by two support characters to help give an explanation to why you’re there, you also get to travel around the red planet by way of a jetpack. That immediately sparked my enthusiasm to this Indie hit, since jetpacks can make almost any game better. You start the game traversing the underground caverns of Mars to find the previous explorer who went missing, as well as attempt to finally establish once and for all if there really is life on Mars. As you go deeper, you start to find strange plant life that your robotic support character calls the Zoa. The Zoa are plants that drop seeds that you can use to throw into the ground to create more plants.
Waking Mars Pic
It isn’t long before you learn that this is the base of most of the game. You enter a new room and gather the seeds, planting them in the fertile terrain, and then are allowed to continue onto the next room. As you go further you find plants that shoot hydrogen seeds, as well as explosive seeds, which you have to be careful not to let them touch the other plants. To throw the seed, you go into your menu and select which seed you want to throw and then slide on the touch screen. This soon becomes a snore fest. It’s nothing more than tedious and downright dull for this to be the main gameplay mechanic. The part where you get to fly around the caves by swiping and dragging on the touch screen is great fun and works, but the tunnels are narrow and difficult to maneuver around, so even that’s no longer fun. The only time that the planting mechanic is fun is whenever you find a new plant that has a new feature, until you find the yellow Zoa that chews on you to death like a glorified Venus Fly Trap. 

Late into to the game, where you have massive rooms to plant in, the biggest chore comes as some of the plants will kill the others like the aforementioned Venus Fly Trap. In one particular room with about fifty Zoa I had to take care of, I finally planted the minimum number of the galactic rose bushes, I was on my way to the exit when some of them got hungry and proceeded to knock me down about six plants, making me have to go back and replant and replant like a gardener who tends to the flowers in a bull pen. I will admit that some of the difficult levels were my fault for putting to Marigolds next to the flower equivalent of a volcano, but you can’t unplant the Zoa, making it impossible to know until you’ve already doomed your chance at beating the level. 

What saddens me about these poor design choices is that I actually liked the story. As you tunneled deeper into Mars you kept finding new species and pieces of the previous traveler, giving just enough information to get you guessing, but not enough to spoil what was about to happen next. It gave me a sigh of relief to get more information on the plot that further enhanced the mystery, making me more and more immersed in the experience as if though I were Liang himself. 

The visuals alone are quite nice, with intricate designs for the plants and a variety of species, as well as a varied look on Mars as you travel deeper. It gave me a great sense of achievement when I finally got past a planting room, but then I found that I had another three of them, which watered my enthusiasm. 

Waking Mars had some pretty interesting controls and story, but the overall point of the game was just a dull chore. Remember how I said that the game was part Metroid and part Harvest Moon? It focused on all the Harvest Moon gardening while leaving the Metroid style exploration in the corner. It’s like if a restaurant had the five star chef working the dish washer, while the garbage boy clumsily attempted to make savory.

About The Author

Joel Draggoo is a game critic set out on an adventure to pick apart games to find the hidden gems of our medium. He tends to feel that developers need to know that we as consumers won't accept every generic piece of vile that they throw to us from their golden throne. Also he thinks that people who refer to themselves from the third person are incredibly uncreative.

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