With global warming, climate change and rising sea levels becoming more and more prevalent in the public eye, it was only inevitable we’d get a game like Jupiter and Mars – a game that wears its eco message proudly, and to moderate success. The majority of the game sees you swimming through flooded, dystopian Earth landmarks, which hold the potential for greatness. But Jupiter & Mars doesn’t quite maintain this level of quality and comes across as mediocre.
The game opens with some standard narration – the world used to be inhabited by ‘Earthwalkers’ who by polluting and exploiting the world increased water levels to the point where the planet was uninhabitable, they then quickly fled the planet to spread their exploitation like a plague. You play as Jupiter and her dolphin partner Mars, as they explore this abandoned world, rescuing sea life along the way. Through interacting with the environment and exploring each location you remove the leftover Earthwalker technology that is harming the local sea life and liberate each locating.
You’d think, given that you play as a dolphin throughout the game, that you’d be in for an experience along the lines of Ecco The Dolphin or Abzu – but for some reason, this is thrown away in favour of hovering around each location directing Mars to interact with things. And this is perhaps my biggest gripe with this game: because it’s designed to be a VR experience, you never truly feel like a dolphin, or anything more than a floating camera. At one point in the game, you unlock a new move, the ‘tailspin’, which allows you to swim against strong currents – but as you only ever see the game from a first-person perspective, this comes across as little more than a visual effect.
Jupiter & Mars could’ve been drastically improved if told from a third-person perspective. Rather than telling me that things are happening, show me these things. Instead of pressing one button and instantly flipping 180 degrees, you could show me a smooth animation of Jupiter spinning around or doing a small flip. Because Jupiter & Mars is told from a first-person perspective, you never feel more than a moving camera watching Mars swim around – and this is sad because some of the best moments in the game are those where you see the dolphins interacting with one another. There’s a beautiful scene in which the dolphins swim around a dimly lit cave to Maurice Ravel’s Bolero, but you only experience this for a few minutes and then it’s gone and you’re back to your static first-person view.
To its credit, the game is beautiful, even if the art style is questionable. Jupiter and Mars are both adorned with beautifully designed neon patterns which help them stand out during the cutscenes. Each sea creature you rescue is similarly covered in neon patterns, each with their own unique colour which helps set the friendlies apart from the enemies. But the choice to make each level dimly lit is odd and makes you overly reliant on the echolocation mechanic which, when used, makes the world look like an 80s arcade game instead of the dystopian environment. Instead of making us think about our actions by grounding the art style in realism, we’re instead treated to a bright colour party one would expect in a more light-hearted game – it goes against the core message of the game but is nevertheless still beautiful in its presentation.
Jupiter & Mars has a lot of positives. It manages to create a decent ambience for exploration and successfully portrays its message through its environments and quests. But it also lets itself down with questionable design choices and relies too much on being a VR experience instead of making an enjoyable and engaging experience.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*