Mines of Mars is a game of treasure hunting, crafting, survival, and exploration that puts you in the role of a lone explorer on Mars intent on solving the mystery of ancient ruins and alien life. Mines of Mars is Crescent Moon Games' hotly anticipated title of treasure hunting and exploration. It has been compared to Terraria and Junk Jack, but it's not really like either, and has far more in common with the iOS classic from a few years ago, I Dig It.
Unceremoniously dropped on an empty Martian colony with nothing but a space suit and a pickaxe, you explore the only direction possible - down. You will begin your adventure searching for minerals and ores to craft better equipment. As you progress through the game, you will craft pickaxes, drills, armor, jet packs, helmets, storage bins, portals, firearms, explosive launchers, ammo clips, heat dissipaters. Some of these are merely incremental upgrades, but some of them introduce new capabilities that open up entirely new styles of play. For instance, in the early game, you will only be able to mine left, right, and down; and you must be standing on solid ground to do it. However, firearms will allow you to blast ledges in smooth walls to give you a foothold for mining, and upgraded boots will (eventually) allow you to flip gravity and mine upside-down. Also, high level explosive launchers will blow massive holes in the bedrock in case you're in a hurry or just have an appetite for wanton destruction. Eventually, you will come across sealed ruins that must be opened by searching the surrounding area for something. Once open, you will have to face increasingly deadly environments of spikes, lava, dripping acid, fast-moving monsters, and, of course, a boss. Defeating each boss will yield an artifact, and finding all artifacts will win you the game.
In my first playthrough, I managed to build everything and access all temples in 10-12 hours. However, because Mines of Mars procedurally generates a new world for each new game, there is quite a bit of gameplay here. The story is moved forward through a series of lighthearted and somewhat amusing phone calls with your administrator, who is somewhere off-planet. While this helps to keep you immersed in the game, I found most of the conversations a bit tedious; especially the ones that are triggered by each equipment upgrade, although that may just be my impatience as they are overall cleverly done. There are also helper bots scattered throughout your world, whose job it is to, well, help you. Unfortunately, they don't really offer much in the way of useful information, and once found underground, they stay right where they are; lost and inaccessible. Fortunately, this is the kind of thing that would be easy to tweak in a future update. In fact, I have a short list of what I consider much-needed tweaks that would take this game from very, very good, to great:
1. Cloud Save! Games that require significant investments in time should support this from the get-go.
2. Don't call me on the phone to chew me out whenever I try to unnecessarily fill-up my fuel.
3. Make the caves more dangerous. Monsters are few and far between, except inside the temples, where they are absolutely deadly.
4. Make the early temples less deadly. I was unable to take on the first boss until I had upgraded nearly all of my equipment.
5. Once found, move the bots to the surface, and have them provide more useful information.
6. Give me rare equipment recipes to find underground to motivate deep delvers and obsessive completionists. This will also increase replay ability.
As you can see, my list is short, and mostly consists of balance changes. The gameplay of Mines of Mars is first-rate, and kept me glued to my iPad Mini to the exclusion of all other games.
Mines of Mars uses some sort of ragdoll physics engine, and it looks fantastic. Everything is crisp and razor sharp on my Retina iPad Mini, and the lighting effects are nicely implemented as well. This is one of those games to which screenshots do not do justice.
A beautiful, haunting soundtrack that really enhances the ol' immersion factor. The sound effects are also quite nice, although they I didn't notice them as much as I did the music.
In-App Purchases (IAPs)
No IAPs of any kind. A premium-priced game, which, counter intuitively, means its affordable to play over the long-term, unlike most freemium offerings.
Mines of Mars is a fantastic game of treasure hunting, crafting, exploration, and combat. While I would like to see more combat while mining, the temples themselves felt a bit too difficult; especially the early ones when you are under geared. Still, there hasn't been a game like this on the App Store for a few years now, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Co-op multiplayer is promised in a future update, and I can't wait to see what that brings to an already great game.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Graphics: - 5 - Beautifully implemented ragdoll physics engine, and retina-ready assets.
Sound: - 4 - A beautiful soundtrack, and decent sound effects.
Controls: - 5 - Never once did I get frustrated while playing. For what is essentially a platformer, this is high praise indeed.
Gameplay: - 4 - Great core gameplay, but the game balance could use a few tweaks.
Playing Hints and Tips:
Don't enter any of the temple ruins until you have substantially upgraded your gear. There is no penalty for saving them for later. Your primary cause of death in the early game will be running out of fuel. Don't ignore your boot upgrades as one of the higher tiers introduces upside-down mining, which also serves as a free ride to the surface. Don't follow the caves as you explore! It's unbelievably easy to get lost as there is no map. Dig straight down, going left/right every 20 blocks or so. Weapon upgrades do not replace previously crafted weapons so if you run out of ammo, switch to another using the inventory screen.
Developer: Crescent Moon Games
Release Date: March 5, 2014
Buy App: Mines of Mars
Reviewed by Tom Slayton
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