Everything about Mars Underground is quirky and surprising, which makes putting together a review without spoilers challenging. I will do my best!
I first saw Mars Underground at PAX 2018, as a part of the PAX Rising Showcase. This game stood out from the other titles in the showcase, as a 16 bit styled indie title, with the demo station set up with a NES controller.
The main character, controlled by you, is stuck in a time loop. Your first time loop is a regular school day, where you have limited options to alter the course of events. It’s revealed you must seek out anomalies – pathways to subvert the fixed timeline. Items you pick up, information you discover, and new people you meet, all become valuable tools for altering the events occurring in the time loop to find anomalies.
The game is set in a small town where you travel between home, school, the city centre, and other curious locations like the local park hosting the Loon-R Festival, and the mysterious Moloch Media Headquarters. There are 10 distinct time periods throughout the day. Actions progress time in Mars Underground. Some events, shops, and characters are only available at particular times. As the game is not real-time based, this creates a unique strategy and planning element to the game. I found myself jotting down notes, so I could efficiently plan my future time-loops. Mercifully, the devs allowed us to quickly advance time, if required, by sitting on a nearby bench.
Be prepared to leave your real life adulting worries and grumpy pants behind when you play Mars Underground. I became friends with the strongest woman in town, talked to toilets, danced at the club with a baby in a tuxedo, carried around poop in my pockets, and unravelled the mysteries of Schrödinger’s Cat, on my adventures to find anomalies. If you get stuck, the game offers hints some mornings to suggest what you could do that day. These hints can be switched off if you’d prefer to explore without prompts. There are multiple endings to uncover, which are mostly non-linear. Some endings are completely adventitious, while others require thoughtful planning to execute.
The sound design in Mars Underground was unexpected. I expected 16 bit sounds, which was what was mostly presented early on in the game with industrial and sci-fi themeing. As I visited new areas, uncovered new stories, and as new time periods became available, the nature of the music developed shaping the impact of the game. I particularly enjoyed early mornings where the sound of a string instrument was introduced.
TLDR: With 16 bit styling, Mars Underground brings old-school, fun, and the bizarre to point and click style adventure games.
Moloch Media (Canberra based studio) have the browser demo available on their website if you’d like to try before you buy.
Mars Underground is available to buy now on Steam, and is on sale (10% off) until the 1st of July, 2019.
Note: Review copy provided by Moloch Media.