Imitation is extremely common in game development, especially in the burgeoning realm of phone and tablet entertainment. It only took a minute or two of playing Mines of Mars to realize it was in many ways a copy of an online flash game called Motherload I played several years ago with a few extra bells and whistles. In the case of gaming it fits with the “sincerest form of flattery” saying as they preserved everything that made that simple online game great while adding in a few twists of their own.
Like the earlier game, Mines of Mars focuses on the idea that despite the excitement of space travel and the allure of strange landscapes, one of the greatest benefits of sending mankind into the stars would be to gather mineral resources from planets and asteroids. Of course this means that in addition to the bold explorers there are those who handle the menial labor of cracking through layers of rock and finding the precious treasures beneath.
Not surprisingly given the title, you play one of these hardy workers dropped off on the surface of Mars. The controls are simple, the left hand side of the tablet controls walking, flying and drilling. The right hand side handles your weapons and jumping. On the surface of the planet are various structures that dispense fuel for your jetpack and ammunition for your weapons along with helping you convert the raw materials you dig up into usable forms. The mining gameplay has a very relaxing, Zen quality to it. As long as you’re keeping an eye on your fuel meter, things are fairly stress free. Upgrades allow you to tunnel deeper, dig faster and hold more materials at a time.
You’ll quickly discover that the planet isn’t quite the barren, empty place you might have suspected. Strange statues and chambers can be found within the rock. Upon entering one for the first time you’ll receive what seems to be a cryptic message. Given the equally bizarre, cryptic messages you receive from your employer the whole situation is a mystery to be unraveled. The chambers function as a sort of maze/boss battle with dangerous obstacles and an intimidating creature at the end. These moments are where Mines of Mars’ shortcomings are painfully evident.
The grid nature of the game is a perfect fit for the simplistic controls when it comes to flying and drilling but the combat control could have been better designed. The aim is simple, but firing happens automatically and many of the enemies move relatively rapidly, meaning a lot of your shots are completely ineffectual. Though you can assemble a small arsenal of weapons most function identically other than their firing rate. This means that defeating the bosses is unsatisfactory since there’s no challenge or strategy involved. Some battles take place in areas so small it’s impossible not to get hit by the boss, no matter what corner or crevice you wedge yourself into so it’s simply a matter of how many shots you can get in before you run out of life.
Despite the wonkiness of the combat controls those segments are brief enough that they don’t seriously diminish from the enjoyment value of the game. While the mining may be repetitive there’s a seriously enjoyable aspect to it. The first time you come across a huge cluster of a rarer resource is a thrilling moment. Mines of Mars looks great as well. Even the buildings on the surface are detailed and unique. The various mineral types are all easily distinguishable from one another and most of the upgrades you can obtain have a unique appearance, despite how small your character is on the screen.
One of the more unusual features added to the game is the robots you can find that function as general guideposts, telling you vaguely where you can find minerals to upgrade your equipment or weapons. Given the lack of time limit or anything that prevents you from exploring as much as you desire, collecting resources for upgrades happens so easily and organically that I never found the need to use the robots.
The basic premise for the game may not be a unique idea but Mines of Mars succeeds taking a surprisingly meditative gameplay experience and infusing it with enough mystery and humor to make you wonder what will be found at the bottom of it all, both literally and figuratively.
While not being a truly innovative idea Mines of Mars combines an enjoyable gameplay style with a quirky story to deliver a sold experience.