Review: Waking Mars

At a Glance

This game is recommended!
This game is not just good fun, it also stays fairly true to Christian moral values, making it a great addition to anyone's library!

ESRB Rating: NR - Not Rated
My Rating: Ages 6 and up
Genre: Platform Puzzler
License: Commercial
Release Year: 2012
Review Published On: August 27th, 2016
Played on: Martha

Available from:

Gamer's Gate, Humble Store, Steam

Save System:

There are several save slots to choose between, allowing you to record your progress across multiple playthroughs. When you first start playing the game, it automatically selects the first save slot for you.

Beyond this, your progress is automatically saved as you explore Lethe Cavern.

If you ever need to pause the game, you can bring up the pause menu by pressing ESC.

Summary of
Major Issues:

This is a game about exploring Mars and interacting with the alien life growing underground. Thus, most of the potentially offensive content revolves around discussions of evolution, predator and prey relationships, and the very existence of alien life.

There is no blood or gore, though some "animals" are eaten by other creatures.

Screenshots

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A Martian sunrise

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I'll bet this wasn't what you expected

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Very scientific research



Game Overview

One of the things that has always made video games enjoyable is their ability to allow you to explore another world. Waking Mars takes this concept a little more directly than usual, and the serious scientific tone of the adventure keeps things interesting. For example, the player learns about the strange life on Mars at the same pace as the cast. Everything is as new and mysterious to the scientists as it is to you, the player.

In this fictional take on a manned exploration of Mars, it's the year 2097 and a pair of scientists have discovered actual alien lifeforms hidden below the surface. Or rather, one of their robotic drones, 0CT0, made the discovery as it descended into Lethe Cavern. Unfortunately, things go wrong down below, trapping 0CT0 outside of radio contact.

With the mission now in jeopardy, Dr. Liang Qi and his AI companion A.R.T. head down into the cavern to rescue the crippled robot. Things continue to go from bad to worse, as a sudden cave-in traps the two inside the caves. This is where the player comes in, as you'll be spending the game guiding Dr. Qi through Lethe Cavern. In order to progress, you'll need to study the alien lifeforms and learn how to interact with them.

Eventually, you'll find that there's a bigger mystery hiding deep within the cavern. What happens next is up to you -- and it determines the fate of not just the scientists, but the future of Mars itself.

This is definitely a game for anyone who enjoys casual adventures, hard science fiction, and mysteries.

Points of Interest

Lethe cavern is a giant puzzle
Every area in the cavern serves a purpose. Most of the areas simply harbor more places to grow zoa (ie, martian life), but some have special uses. For example, there are at least two areas where you can easily stock up on fertilizer. In order to solve the puzzle that is Lethe Cavern, you'll need to use all of the areas effectively.
All dialogue is voiced
For a cast of just four characters, there's a lot of dialogue. Even more surprising is that all of it is voiced, adding up to over an hour of raw sound clips. Many scenes even feature different dialogue trees, so you might not hear the same lines if you play Waking Mars again later on.

Later on when you meet an alien, it'll have a few things to say as well. The only problem is that they talk in radio signals rather than speech. Fortunately, Amani developed a program to interpret strange radio signals discovered in the caves, so everyone will be able to have a vague idea of what the alien is talking about.
Multiple endings
At the end of the story you'll have arrived at a crossroads, and it's up to you to decide which path to take. You don't have to really worry about your decision however, as the game allows you to make the other choice right after the credits.
Achievements
For the completionist, there are achievements for everything from viewing each ending to completing the optional research tasks. These tasks aren't particularly tricky, and if you searched around enough you'll naturally discover everything in the course of your journey.
All minority cast
Liang is Asian, Amani is an African-American, and the other two cast members are AIs. Thus, even counting 0CT0's humanoid avatar, there aren't any Caucasian characters in this game, which is pretty refreshing. It's also worth noting that both Liang and Amani are depicted as skilled scientists, with Amani developing new tools on the fly and Liang putting the pieces of the puzzle together without assistance.
Silly minigame
In the base camp, there's a little area where you can play around with the game's physics by using seeds to play basketball. There's no actual point in doing this, it's just there for the fun of it.
Dialogue is unskippable
Whenever anybody has something to say, the gameplay stops to show the dialogue scene. While these can be sped through by clicking repeatedly, they will still interrupt whatever you're doing. These are usually triggered by Liang traveling somewhere new or discovering something. If he found a new obstacle of some sort, then expect some comments on it.
Holds the player's hands
Although the entire game is about exploring an alien world and making discoveries, there are a lot of times where it simply tells the player what they should be doing. For example, if Liang discovers a new obstacle, he'll have a conversation with A.R.T. or Amani about how to get around it, giving the player a blatant hint.
Slow pacing can turn younger gamers away
Waking Mars isn't fast paced, and flows more like a documentary than an action movie. This has led to comparisons between it and low quality edutainment games you would encounter at school or a museum. Ultimately, if you're looking for an adrenaline rush, you won't get one from this game.

Concerns and Issues

Martian life and evolution
The existence of life on Mars challenges the Genesis account enough already, but the scientists do question what caused the alien life to evolve the way it has. If this is a sensitive topic for you, this might not be a game you'll enjoy.
Predation
Some of the species of martian life eat other martian lifeforms. The leftovers create a rich fertilizer you'll need to be able to continue in the later portions of the game. There isn't any blood or gore, but the critter that is consistently preyed upon is a bit on the ugly-but-cute side of things and this may unsettle some people.
Death is a tap on the wrist
Should Dr. Qi end up being killed by environmental hazards or player mistakes, the current area just resets to what it was when he entered and you can try again. On the other hand, as he gets injured his breathing becomes labored and it sounds like his air supply is running out. It's a little creepy.
The sentient that didn't make it
At one point, the player discovers a pod containing some sort of organic remains. At the time, neither Liang nor A.R.T. know what to make of it, as it more or less resembles a tumbleweed. It turns out to be a long dead member of the sentient martian species.