If you’ve played games like I Dig It, Motherload
or Steamworld Dig, you’ll quickly get a grasp of what’s going on here. The player starts
off underpowered and with a monumental task ahead of them. The only way to improve your
gathering, killing and survival skills is to collect gems and ore – the primary currency
required to build the tools that will assist you. This core mechanic of mining, smelting
and upgrading offers a carefully constructed compulsion loop that’s easy to grasp and gets
its hooks in early. Mines of Mars is procedurally generated. Meaning
that every single playthrough will be different. You might be lucky enough to find a large
vein of rare minerals early, or you could be searching for quite a while for that one
reasonably common material. While the layout of the maps is different every time you start
a new game, a few common elements must always exist, mostly pertaining to story progression.
You see, WickeyWare has taken mining and exploration mechanics and melded them nicely with the
upgrading and progression elements of games like Metroid.
From the protective suit you’re wearing, to the thermal dissipators that allow deeper
exploration, every item can be upgraded. More efficient jetpacks will allow you to safely
return home without running out of fuel. Advanced helmets allow for greater vision when below
ground. The storage container for unrefined minerals can also be upgraded, allowing each
subterranean venture to be more profitable. Since you’re limited in how much raw material
you can bring to the surface at a time, and there’s no way to discard what is picked up,
a little bit of planning can go a long way during each trip.
Scattered throughout the game are mysterious temples, only accessible once a corresponding
switch is found. Each maze-like temple contains traps, monsters and most notably, an ancient,
hulking beast. These are no cakewalk and can easily dispatch even a seasoned a player.
The benefit to taking these out however is access to additional loot like rare minerals
or weapon upgrades and an unusual relic fragment, which is vital to the overarching storyline.
Unfortunately, the difficulty of the game tapers off as more items are acquired. Once
you pass a certain threshold when it comes to mobility, sight and mining upgrades, minerals
that were once difficult to acquire become almost trivial. This is reasonably common
with games of this ilk, but perhaps a little balancing and/or additional content would
alleviate the issue. I would love to see the inclusion of a map
at some stage, allowing the player to notate where temples and other areas of interest
are. Although getting around isn’t difficult, having a general sense of where to go may
lessen arbitrary digging. Having organic obstacles to overcome, like pools of lava for example,
would give players an ever greater sense of tension and would allow the developers to
come up with some creative additional content. Mines of Mars is a wonderfully atmospheric
title, with beautiful artwork and music and some genuinely creepy alien designs. The developer
has assured me that MFi controller support is a very high priority, with iCloud saves
possibly coming in to play at a later stage. There’s plenty of highly addictive, entertaining
gameplay on offer here. If you’re a fan of exploration, discovery, science fiction, mining,
upgrading or shooting stuff, definitely check this one out.