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Liang is a scientist sent to study life on Mars. He and his team delve under the surface and find a network of caverns. There they find life and more than they bargained for in this adventure platformer from developer Tiger Style.
Waking Mars is no ordinary game. To succeed, you must figure out how the alien ecosystem functions and manipulate that to complete your goals. Danger is pretty much everywhere thanks to acid dropping from the cavern ceilings and alien life that looks like plants but that will try to kill you and eat you.
Your team consists of two members. Art is your trusty AI that helps you by cataloging your discoveries and giving you research projects to do on the life you discover to determine what, if anything, it eats, how it reacts to water, and how it reproduces among other things. There’s also Amani, a co-worker that stays on the surface while you explore the caverns and with whom Liang seems to have a semi-romantic relationship with. It seems to still be developing though, so that’s just another incentive to escape the caverns! Some of the plant names are kind of silly, but for the most part they work ok.
Since you’re exploring a massive cavern and ropes would be inconvenient, you get a jetpack to fly you around the caves and keep you out of the pools of acid and other nasty stuff. Knocking into the walls doesn’t hurt you but if you break a stalactite off it might fall on you or one of your plants and kill it, which could be problematic.
The first thing you learn is how to grow Halid Zoa which will be the main plant that you cultivate. They grow from seeds that pop out of other Halid Zoa and that you collect. Each plant in Waking Mars that you can grow works in this way, producing seeds so that you can grow more of them and increase the Biomass. Collecting seeds is fairly simple and you can toggle between seeds easily enough, but you must be careful not to throw the wrong kind, since the Hydron Zoa seeds break when they hit the ground. There are also little creatures running around on some levels that will steal the seeds you drop or that the plants produce and eat them, so you have to pay attention to what’s going on or you’ll lose seeds and the biomass will take that much longer to increase. That was pretty much my only annoyance with the game, and maybe I just needed to pay more attention to which seed I was throwing at the time.
It might seem boring to just plant seeds and watch them grow, like some sort of sci-fi version of Farmville, but that’s not the case. You don’t have to wait long for the plants to grow and there’s no upkeep required except for the occasional watering of a Halid Zoa so that you can heal damage. You also can increase biomass by feeding the little creatures your seeds so that they reproduce. It wasn’t clear that’s what was happening the first time I did it; the creature just dropped an egg that disappeared once it finished rolling. I eventually figured it out because the creature laid the egg and then walked away so I watched the new one grow.
There’s a mystery or two to solve while you’re growing plants and learning the ecosystem, and they relate more to Mars as a whole rather than the cavern you’re dealing with at the time. Art will help you by pointing out certain things and Amani will do so as well.
Waking Mars is available on PC from Steam.
Note: Waking Mars was reviewed on PC after completing the game.