It’s been over two years since Tiger Style Games released Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor to huge critical acclaim and fame. Now Tiger Style has returned with another game that proves their ability to consistently make creative and artistic titles that are compelling to play. That game is Waking Mars, a new adventure title full of wonder, intrigue, and mystery as you explore the seemingly endless caverns of Mars.
You play as Liang, a Chinese astrophysicist currently on a mission to find a missing Mars rover after being sent some very strange images and losing contact. Along with his base camp partner Amani and his humorous AI buddy ART, Liang must explore the lonely caverns of the red planet, only to find that they’re not quite so lonely. Due to his interference, all of the plant like creatures known as Zoa begin awakening, and this simple mission quickly turns into an amazing journey.
Gameplay is centered around manipulating the cavernous ecosystem to max out the possible biomass. Your progress is always impeded by protective membrane plants known as cerebranes, and reaching a certain biomass level is the only way to take them down. Different plants give off different kinds of seeds, which must be planted in specific kinds of soil to grow. It becomes exceedingly more complex as new Zoa, some of which are carnivorous or otherwise dangerous, enter the mix. The game puts experimentation in the spotlight, and you truly feel like a scientist discovering and studying new life as you uncover the ways each Zoa interact with each other to grow, consume, reproduce, or destroy. Everything that you discover is cataloged by ART in a handy guide, and any area can be revisited for any reason in the future. While the tone is completely different, I was often reminded of Aquaria due to the heavy emphasis on exploration in a cavernous environment. Both games are very atmospheric, but with very different emotional tones.
The layered 2D art is gorgeous, and works in tandem with the ambient soundtrack to create an extremely lonely atmosphere. The story that unfolds as you hunt for the lost rover and uncover the breadcrumbs it left behind is fascinating and completely engaging. The game controls simply and while it is enjoyable to play, it can be quite frustrating at times. This is definitely a game that you play for the overall experience more than the gameplay though. Waking Mars is iOS Universal and available for five dollars at the time of this review, and believe me when I say that it’s worth it for such an atmospheric and fascinating journey.