Arguably the most exciting thing shown during Sony’s first State of Play was Jupiter & Mars. The charming experience driven title had a fascinating look and more than enough charm to pique player interest. But, if there is one thing this generation has taught us, it’s how powerful and deceptive a trailer can be. Given the promise of VR support, bright colors and cute sea creatures, is Jupiter & Mars a must or is it another case of misleading trailers?
Even though Jupiter & Mars has a story, it really comes down to the parting message about taking care of our world and rising sea levels. Ignoring the fact it’s outright stated at the end, much of their adventure is about subtlety suggesting this and it’s better for it. Instead of having clever analogies or cheap Captain Planet-esque villains, their world is actually, for lack of a better word, realistic.
Most of their adventure is about exploring this underwater world. There is plant life, other sea creatures, plenty of places to visit and, most importantly, a fair number of ruins. The presence of man is certainly there and even if they’re not actively trying to hurt Jupiter, Mars or any other creature, it is commonly a negative force. Going back to the previous statement, these elements are about our impact on the environment and how these choices negatively impact us as a whole. And, even if the creatures in Jupiter & Mars are able to find a new place to live, that might not be an option we have.
Despite that being an overarching idea and key point in the story, it would be wrong to limit Jupiter & Marsto just the message. Much to Tigertron’s credit, this is a fascinating world that draws players in and gives you plenty to look at, especially if you have an OLED. But, at the end of the day, this is still an experience driven game and falls into many of the same traps.
Probably the biggest criticism I have for these games is how they try to be more than the sum of their parts. Despite respecting the message and loving the underwater visuals, at least at range, Jupiter & Mars makes too many frustrating choices to overlook.
Part of the problem is Jupiter’s echolocation mechanic. Since most scenes have a lot of contrast, to the point where some sections are almost entirely black, players need to use echolocation to get an idea of what the surroundings look like. This is also the mechanic used to find collectibles, enemies, breakable items and structures that are safe to hide behind. The problem becomes, if you don’t realize there is a side path here or that you need to go there, it’s entirely possible to get stuck or confused. This happened to me and another writer here more than once, with us both getting frustrated at different parts.
Ultimately, the solution was something simple, like the last room we were in had a small opening to the side that can only be seen at a certain angle or hidden in some random corner. Obviously this was a concern, as there are lights that illuminate the path forward or to hidden items, except it’s not always the most clear.
The biggest problem is that they don’t indicate the correct direction. They’ll point you forward or back, it just falls on the player to realize which is the right way. This can often times lead to confusion, especially if you don’t realize they might just be there to reveal a secret. Speaking of secrets, one of the baffling choices is locking certain areas off due to progression.
As you progress you’ll unlock a variety of powers. These include the ability to swim against the current, diver deeper, resist the cold and so forth. Every level contains a section that requires most of these powers, meaning you need to basically beat the game and return if you want to get every collectible. As someone who attempted it and spent well over an hour looking for a single item, largely because of how easy it is to miss things, swimming around the world looking for pointless trinkets is not the best way to encourage additional playthroughs.
The hard thing about grading Jupiter & Mars is, despite all the complaints, extremely low budget looking surface and several scenes looking like something out of a PlayStation 2 game, it’s still a fascinating experience. Even if the frustrating elements detracted from the fun and wonder of this world, I still found myself wide eyed and excited to see what the next area had. For that reason, I’d think there is enough reason to justify checking it out, especially if you own an OLED or PlayStation VR, just keep in mind that getting all those collectibles is an outright nightmare.
[Editor’s Note: Jupiter & Mars was reviewed on PS4 platform. The game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]