Thursday, November 29

Review: Mars - Chaos Menace [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Making games that are hard is a tough business. Somehow you need to make things challenging, and even aggravating, but all the while you need to suck people in and entice them to want to keep playing. This can be a real tightrope walk but there are obviously games that do it well and then are generally well-regarded. The thing is that there are plenty of titles out there that don’t get it quite right, and while you could say they’re challenging there’s not enough that feels right to keep you wanting to persist. This is very much the trap Mars: Chaos Menace falls into, not just proving to be a bit too hard but in general, but more critically for reasons that don’t make it terribly endearing.



Starting with the positive it has a visual style that’s a bit different, going for a somewhat pixelated but semi-realistic kind of look rather than the typically more cartoony or space-based style. You’ll be flying over natural landscapes of various kinds from lush forests and rivers to things like active volcanoes. You’ll have 2 base units to work with, a blue robot who has a rapid-firing gun that shoots forwards and a green robot who has more of a spread cannon. These colors roughly correspond to the effects of power-up orbs you’ll be able to pick up as well and which will accumulate, at least for a brief time, to help you keep adequate firepower to stay alive.


In terms of the troubles for me in spots they began with the visuals. Especially when it comes to a screen being crowded by enemy fire anomalous elements like leaves flying through the screen or other non-lethal elements are actually a nuisance as they throw off my peripheral dodging vision. The size of your robot on-screen doesn’t do much to help, its body is a bit on the big side even though its hitbox is smaller than that but again, this complicates how you navigate through bullets when things get hectic and tight. You have both a limited laser and force field but in particular the shield seemed both inconsistent and wonky, pretty well to the point where I hesitated to rely on it, roughly defeating its purpose.


The lack of visual cues also contributes to problems when you respawn after dying. Aside from the period you’re invulnerable feeling like it’s over very quickly, once you’re well into the level you can typically forget having much hope for recovering. By the time you’re back in action enemy fire and the enemies themselves can pile up significantly. Though there are multiple skill levels to choose from very honestly I found the differences between the first 2 mostly negligible. Throw in the fact that you’re unable to continue at the point you die, needing to always start the current stage over again (even on Easy), and that takes away the chance to at least check out what’s to come and try to get a feel for things.


Overall, while perhaps the hardcore bullet hell fans may be drawn to the challenge of Mars: Chaos Menace I found it lacking in fun and even irritating. The inconsistency of the shield, the fact that it doesn’t feel like there’s hardly and warmup at all, and just an accumulation of small problems really drag it down. If you’ve burned through the current library and are thirsting for a challenge it may be worthwhile, but if you’re a genre fan who hasn’t yet partaken of the many great titles that are out there I’d take most of that list ahead of this specific title.

Score: 6

Pros:

  • There’s no doubt it’s challenging, though not always for the right reasons
  • The option to go with straight and fast fire or a slightly slower spread as your default gives some choice at the core


Cons:

  • The landscapes you’re flying over can be a bit busy and distracting with so much you need to dodge around
  • The hitbox is only a portion of your character’s size but this makes judging placement more challenging than it needs to be
  • The shield/force field let me down too many times, even right after I began using it, to the point I started to avoid it
  • Not much of a feel in difference between the challenge of Easy versus Normal