Review: Waking Mars

Table of Contents

Quick Info

Gore & Brutality Magic Sex Civility Religious Objections
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Additional Notes
This game's soundtrack is available!


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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

General Information

Genre:Platform Puzzler ESRB Rating:NR - Not Rated
License:Commercial My Rating:Children (6+)
Played on:Martha
Available from: Gamer's Gate, Humble Store, Steam
Soundtrack:Available as complementary DLC

General Notes

One of the things that has always made Adventure 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.

As the cast discover and learn about their surroundings, so does the player. This keeps a feeling of mystery that's pretty unique in games these days, and clearly makes this game one to check out.

Story Overview

This story takes place in the year 2097. Life has been discovered on Mars, and now a pair of scientists has arrived on the red planet to study it and Lethe Cavern, a large underground cave system. Their robotic explorer 0CT0 went underground some time ago, but something went wrong and its radio has gone silent.

The mission now in jeopardy, Dr. Liang Qi and his AI companion A.R.T. head down into the cavern below the Outpost to rescue their crippled robot. Along the way he encounters various strange plantlike lifeforms, and attempts to study them. Unfortunately, things go from bad to worse as the gasses released from the newly planted lifeforms cause an acidic bacteria to thrive and eat the rock out from underneath the Outpost, causing a massive cave in that destroys the Outpost and traps Dr. Qi and A.R.T. inside the cavern.

With no other option, they head deeper into the caves and discover that there's a bigger mystery lurking behind the scenes.

Gameplay Overview

The player controls Liang with the WASD keys, though instead of jumping, he'll use his jetpack to hover or move around in the lower gravity. Using the mouse buttons, the player can select and throw various types of seeds around. Most of the time, you'll be tossing the seeds into fertile soil to grow martian plants, but there are a few other uses for them.

Once enough biomass has been grown in an area, a barrier-like creature known as a "cerebane" will retract, allowing Liang to travel to new areas in search of new seeds or new clues to the overall mystery.

Note that some of the martian Zoa are predators and will consider giving Liang a taste if he gets too close. Several environmental hazards (lava, falling rocks, acid) also pose a threat that needs to be navigated around, and of course you need to be mindful of how fast he's falling or flying, as a speedy impact with the rocks isn't going to be comfortable.


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, 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 entire puzzle, 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.

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.

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.