Waking Mars Review: Nearly One Year Later, Apple’s Runner-Up Game of 2012 is Still Top-Notch
We’re the first to admit, this one was easy to overlook—which explains why we’re getting around to reviewing it some eight months after release. On the face of it, Waking Mars from Tiger Style is a weird space exploration game with near-cheesy visuals… But count it a shame if you passed this one over based on outward appearances. It only takes a few minutes inside Waking Mars to figure out what the game is all about, and from there it gets exponentially better and better. Apple picked it as runner-up for best game of 2012, and now we can safely say we have no issues with the choice.
So what does it really mean to be a space exploration game? In Waking Mars, you play as Liang, the guy tasked with delving deep into Martian caverns as he traces the path of a previous explorer and learns that there’s a whole lot going on under the dusty surface of the planet. His sidekicks include Amani, a female working from the base camp, and ART, an artificial intelligence unit… No one character dominates the story in Waking Mars, as it’s really about the planet itself, as well as the life forms that inhabit it—which leads us to the other major player in the game: Zoa.
It’s not long into Liang’s journey before you discover these living, active plants that will prove essential to your progression through the game. It might sound strange—or even boring—to play a game in which plants have such a big role, but such is the pacing of Waking Mars. There are hardly any direct dangers to Liang (other than occasional acidic liquids and carnivorous Zoas), and he is instead challenged to examine his surroundings in each new chamber of the caverns, with the goal of determining how he can manipulate the ecosystem to proceed deeper. The Zoa are so integral because they directly affect Biomass—a measurement which has to reach certain levels before the environment will open itself further to Liang… It all sounds very new-agey and not very App Store/High Score friendly. But seeing as it works so well, this uniqueness adds to the joy of playing the game, and you better believe it was a big part of what scored Tiger Style runner-up for Apple’s game of the year.
When it comes to gameplay, Waking Mars takes a straightforward, intuitive approach. Liang’s movements are controlled with just a few different gestures. Tap on the left or right side of the screen to move him in the corresponding direction, and tap on the UPPER-left or UPPER-right to engage the jetpack and take to the cavernous air. Throwing items like Zoa seeds involves merely tapping the spot where you want it to go (and adjusting for gravity depending on the distance).
Having observed the simplicity of the controls and the mostly-peaceful nature of the game, some might call Waking Mars too easy on the whole. It’s true, you can get through the game in less than 10 hours, and there are no serious drawbacks if your health gets depleted… But does this mean the game is too easy? Or does it just allow us to focus on the experience rather than worrying about staying alive?
While you might not come away from Waking Mars exhausted and dripping sweat, it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll come away with the same view of iOS gaming that you had before… Tiger Style has managed to do AGAIN what they did previously with Spider, The Secret of Bryce Manor—and that is create a game that’s fun to play, but even more fun to experience. You can expect to be intellectually stimulated all the way through Waking Mars—and on top of that, you’ll be enthralled with the story and gameplay (this isn’t biology class, after all)… Waking Mars is a subtle masterpiece that has been lurking right under our noses in the App Store for most of the year. Given the nature of the game, I guess it’s only right that this is a treasure waiting to be discovered. Consider this review your bright, shiny clue.
Our Score: 4.5 Out of 5 Stars