Friday, January 4

Review: JCB Pioneer - Mars [Nintendo Switch eShop]

While there are certainly quite a number of survival games on the Switch at this point they’ve all been set on Earth. That’s a lie, at a minimum Crashlands is set on a weird planet, but where I was going is that none of them are set as if on a completely alien and inhospitable world, where aside from the normal crafting and worrying about food you’ve got concerns like oxygen to deal with as well. JCB Pioneer: Mars is here to change that, with you getting off to a rocky start and finding yourself a bit isolated on the red planet, needing to engineer the shit out of things if you want to survive… or something like that.

After a relatively brief tutorial that introduces you to some of the aspects of the game but hardly all for the most part you’re going to be shoved out of the nest and expected to figure the rest out. The basics are that you have your central base, which you’ll want to add modules onto to improve your situation, a starter rover that will help you get around and do some digging for minerals and materials you’ll need to do your building, and a pretty large expanse of the planet that you’ll want to explore in search of pods that have parts and equipment you’ll need as well.

Don’t expect this to be a combat-oriented affair, what you’re really fighting against here is depleting resources, periodic environmental nastiness, and to be honest a bit of boredom. If you really are intrigued by the idea of being on another planet and getting to explore the surface this has some interest to offer, with fairly good graphics and some varied terrains and areas to check out. No doubt control in lower gravity would take a little getting used to but fine movement on foot can be a bit aggravating and certainly the fact that your vehicles look and feel like they’re trying to drive on ice isn’t helpful either. If you stick with it and begin to flesh out your base and  earn some upgrade points that you can apply where you’d like to place your focus it does start to get marginally more interesting but there’s still a lot of tedious back and forth, trying to manage your inventory, and looking over a large landscape that for the most part is barren and dull.

As a novel experience and a taste of what it may be like to try to survive a scenarios a bit like in the movie The Martian, perhaps there could be some mileage here for people. Even outside of the setting and perspective you play from there’s nothing like this on the console in terms of play mechanics… though I’d argue that’s a wise move on the part of everyone else. Just all of the interactions feel overcomplicated, there’s simply not a lot of good direction to help you sort of what needs to be done and how, and it seems to involve a disproportionate amount of time on accomplishing too little. It shoots for the stars but really struggles to get off the launch pad.

Score: 5.5

  • Absolutely a unique survival experience on the Switch
  • In terms of look and feel wannabe astronauts may really enjoy the thought of it all, helping cover for the generally dull gameplay

  • Though the tutorial is a good start there’s plenty that isn’t well explained you need to stumble through
  • Time spent and wasted on managing your inventory is always a bummer
  • While the are you can explore is quite large there’s a lot of empty space and repetition about, diminishing the opportunity for a sense of discovery