Your iOS is about to take you beyond the stars and deep within the belly of the red planet in the rich and atmospheric action-adventure game of puzzles and scientific exploration, Waking Mars from Tiger Style Games. Guide Liang deep beneath the surface of Mars in a beautifully moody and jaw-droppingly beautiful science-fiction journey that will force you to master the alien ecosystem you discover and ultimately decide the fate of an entire planet. Now available for PC or Mac from Good Old Games!
Playing is relatively simple; just hold your finger anywhere onscreen to move. If it's on the ground, Liang will run to it, and if it's in the air, he'll activate his jetpack, allowing you to fly around and safely navigate hazards. As you explore, you'll gradually gain access to different types of seeds that will allow you to manipulate the planet around you. Certain plants react differently to one another, tipping the ecosystem in ways that can open paths or otherwise help or heal you. Just tap the icon in the lower right corner, select a seed from the menu that pops up, and tap anywhere onscreen to through it in that direction. If the seed lands in appropriate soil, it'll quickly grow. Different plants and lifeforms can interact with each other in various ways, so you'll have to pay close attention to their behaviour and your surroundings to figure out what you need to do and where in order to manipulate the area's Biomass enough to get you through each place.
Of course, the deeper you go, the more you have to contend with. Not all of the life forms you'll encounter are stationary, and not all of them are friendly. Your health is displayed in the top left corner of the screen, and depletes whenever you take damage. You can, fortunately, make use of a certain plant with a certain seed to heal yourself. As you explore, your map will be updates with waypoints, and you can tap these to travel to them instantly. (Samus is jealous.) The whole planet is a mystery waiting to be unraveled, but as you delve farther below the surface you might not be prepared for what you find. Remember, every action has a consequence.
Analysis: Waking Mars is one of those games that can not only suck you in, but literally change your whole mood. It's rare for a game to be able to so perfectly manipulate its atmosphere as to make you forget what's going on around you as you play, but Waking Mars does it with enviable ease. The alien life you encounter is at times both beautiful and unsettling, while the unobtrusive soundtrack weaves its way subtly through everything you do and experience. It combines to create a truly cinematic experience, and one you instantly want to know more about. The way the story expands and reveals itself the farther you play is really impressive, and watching the characters develop into people doubly so. Plus, come on. ART is the best computer.
The ecosystem mechanic is what really sets Waking Mars apart from other adventure games, however, and the way it gets you thinking in ways most other titles don't is kind of spectacular. Especially considering the way it weaves into the storyline. Discovering new life forms is always thrilling, and sometimes even a little scary, and if you give it a chance to get going the plot can really snare you. For the most part, the movement and physics feels comfortable and natural as long as you don't get carried away and try to zip around like a drunken Rocketeer. The exploration can also be really exciting with the unstable terrain and can even set your heart pounding a little at times. Figuring out what you need to do to progress can be challenging, but as long as you pay attention to ART's research and are willing to experiment a little, you shouldn't have much trouble. It's an odd combination of elements, to be sure, but fans of games that marry story and gameplay will find a lot to embrace here.
Waking Mars is one of those games that took me a while to get around to playing, and I'm sorry that was the case. You don't often find games that make you want to shut out all distractions, but through it's incredibly engaging story, rich design, and clever gameplay Waking Mars does just that. It's creepy, it's beautiful, it's one of the most stunning and original games available for iOS, and really needs to be experienced by as many people as possible. Take a trip that's out of this world and get ready to think about life, the universe, and everything. You'll be glad you did.
NOTE: This game was played and reviewed on an iPad (1st gen). Game was available in the North American market at the time of publication, but may not be available in other territories. Please see individual app market pages for purchasing info.