Every now and then, a game comes along with a specific message. Whether it’s commentary about our political climate, or a history lesson about a different culture, these games can often miss the mark in delivering that message. Tigertron’s Jupiter & Mars aims to raise awareness of the pollution in our Earth’s oceans. It also points out the rising water levels, suggesting a future where the world is entirely submerged underwater. It’s a powerful and moving message, and Jupiter & Mars ultimately delivers that communication. Looking at it as a game, Tigertron delivers a fun, but somewhat flawed experience with a PSA and a relaxing vibe.
Jupiter & Mars is a story about two dolphins in the distant future where humanity has disappeared.While humans may be gone, their creations are still left behind, leaving Jupiter and Mars to restore the worlds oceans. This means saving aquatic wildlife, shutting down machinery, and cleaning up pollution. Players will take control of Jupiter, working with her mate, Mars, through five different aquatic environments. Upon starting the game, a narrator with a slight lisp introduces the two, being the only voice in the entire game. Oddly enough, the game isn’t very clear about informing the player that they’re Jupiter, at least not in the beginning.
The game works sort of like a first-person Ecco the Dolphin. That being said, the player will swim around with the R2 trigger as they use the analog sticks to maneuver the waters. Mars will usually be within view, acting as the players way to interact with objects. Pressing X will send out an echolocation sense to get a better idea of your surroundings. This sonar ability has a limited range but highlights objects and topography for a limited time. If a destructible object or clam shell is within your sights during this, it will be targeted, allowing the player to press the circle button to send Mars in for an attack.
The game doesn’t really have any enemies, mostly just providing obstacles for the players to avoid. Using the square button, you can fire vortex rings to push away jellyfish in your way. Using the same rings, you can also save aquatic creatures in need. Other than that, there isn’t really anything else to interact with. The main source of danger comes from various machines that send out a sequenced pulse. Getting hit by that pulse will restart you at a previous checkpoint. This often means hiding behind various walls to slowly make your way to the power source for Mars to destroy it. Speaking of slow, swimming can sometimes feel like it isn’t going fast enough.
The environments are all based on real world locations. The first area, The Sunpool, is the only one that’s left a little ambiguous. It’s basically a generic beach, perhaps of California or Florida. The Clocktower is based on London, Plastic Beach is China, Poseidon represents Greece, and A.T.L.A.N.T.I.S. is New York. The world has a unique neon style as objects and terrain are lit with neon details. Sometimes it can be a breathtaking experience, reminiscent of the Land of the Dead from Coco. Creatures will have tribal looking markings that glow in the darkness of the ocean depths, and echolocation brings a temporary splash of color to your surroundings. It’s an interesting style that makes it stand out, using the Unreal engine to bring it to life. Animations are simple and the game takes advantage of the environment to compensate for technical details like draw distance.
The sound design is interesting to say the least. Music is usually fantastic, offering some catchy beats, but there are times when the music stops entirely. The silence becomes a little awkward and only emphasizes the other sounds of the game. With the use of sonar, that makes nearby objects “ping” when detected. Sometimes this sound can be confusing, as it can be interactive objects, obstacles, or even random nearby wildlife. These pings can be discovered through walls and it really makes it difficult to use effectively as a gameplay tool. Other than that, the underwater sound design is pretty fantastic, offering a realistic approach to the oceans of our world.
Levels are plentiful with collectibles, all hiding in clam shells that Mars will have to attack. Despite each level having over a dozen collectibles, there’s also many empty clam shells, serving no real purpose. Each treasure is a part of a three-piece set, but the challenge is hunting each one down. The game doesn’t have a map, so players will have to rely on their sense of direction alone. Not only does this make collecting treasure frustrating, but it can also be easy to get lost in certain levels. The game does have a compass, pointing you in the direction of your next objective, helping a little bit. Regardless, it would’ve been nice to have a map to reference for collectibles.
Aside from treasures, the game also has a lot of aquatic life to rescue. Each level will have groups of various animals to save. This is in line with the PSA of the effect we have on our wildlife and oceans. It adds a subtle touch to the message by showing just how pollution can harm the creatures. Having both treasures and creatures to save, there’s plenty of encouragement for exploration. Various abilities obtained throughout the game also unlock new areas for previous levels. This adds quite a bit of play time to the game. Without the exploration, one could complete the game rather quickly. The main story would only take a handful of hours, even if you take your time.
One of the major draws to Jupiter & Mars is the fact it can be played entirely with PlayStation VR. After doing an entire level in VR, I have to say, I prefer playing without it sadly. While the game is perfectly playable, movement can cause some disorientation. Perhaps the biggest issue with this is the lack of resolution in this mode. The simplistic visuals help to a degree, but there are a lot of jagged edges, immediately noticeable even on the title screen. It might be fun for a bit, but I wouldn’t recommend playing the entire game in VR.
When it’s all said and done, Jupiter & Mars is a fun, albeit short, aquatic adventure. It’s a budget title and it has full VR support, offering a good amount of content for little investment. The visuals range from simple to beautiful, offering an interesting variety. Gameplay is minimal, and navigation without a map is somewhat frustrating, but the message is a meaningful and an important one. Just one look at the beginning of Plastic Beach is enough to show a real problem in our oceans. Releasing on Earth Day, Jupiter & Mars is a somewhat eye-opening experience, providing a little fun with its message.