- Developer - Tiger Style
- Formats - iOS, Android
- Devices tested - Galaxy S3, iPhone 4
- Price - £3.09
What if, instead of shooting things and killing them in games, you shot them and brought them back to life? That's the philosophical overarch of Waking Mars, a side-scrolling action game by Tiger Style that's just been ported to Android.
You play an astronaut stranded in a network of caves on Mars. The whole planet is dead; the plant life has withered due to lack of food and water. Your objective is to revive it using seeds and pollen, which you can find dotted around the caves and, once they're sprouted again, hanging off of plants. You plant them in the same way you launch an Angry Bird: Just press your finger against the screen, drag back and release. Once you've planted enough seeds you continue through the cave.
It's no more complicated, really, than a 2D shooter like Contra, but the twist is of course that you're bringing life rather than ending it. Waking Mars is groovy. It's non-violent; it has spacey music; it wants you to appreciate the preciousness of life. "Tree-hugging" would be a cynical word for it. Objectively, though, it's just kind of nice.
It's by no means flawless. Take away the non-violent sentiments and there wouldn't be much here. The visuals are drab, browns and deep reds that by all means suit the location but are nevertheless uninspiring. Playing Waking Mars can get a little boring. The cave network is convoluted rather than complex and awkward to navigate. It's pretty slim on action too: Not to sound a philistine, but firing seeds into stationary plants is, despite Waking Mars' pretensions, different to shooting bad guys. It's not as fun. Waking Mars makes a point definitely, but doesn't have much else to say or do afterwards.
It has a pretty good plot, though. Told via subtitles and still images, Waking Mars' story provides the slivers of context needed to give gameplay some purpose. It's lean and unassuming - there's even the odd bad joke. It doesn't quite compensate for the listlessness you sometimes feel shooting plants, but it's tight and it's there. In mobile games particularly, story often features only as a bonus, so it's pleasing to see it so integral in Waking Mars.
This is a bright game. A lot of mobile releases are disposable. They're designed as things to diddle with while you're waiting for a bus or on your lunch break. Waking Mars has some meat on its bones. There's a fresh mechanic (often referred to as "action gardening") and a story.
Tiger Style might have made a mistake in thinking that one idealistic conceit would be enough to carry a whole game, but Waking Mars is still interesting and comes highly recommended.
If you want to know more, the game's director Randy Smith ran a column for Edge last year where he talked about the development of Waking Mars from conception to launch. "Planting Ideas", from February, is a particularly good read on how he tried to make the gameplay more interesting.
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