We’ve been keeping tabs on Crescent Moon Games’ Mines of Mars ($4.99) since we first caught wind of it nearly a year ago. Now, after over a year of development, we’ve finally got our hands on WickyWare’s mining adventure. The wait may have been long, but it’s well worth it as Mines of Mars is an excellent adventure that does a great job melding open-world exploration with a cohesive quest-driven story.
Sent off to the planet of Mars, you play the role of an experienced miner dispatched to the Red Planet to, well, mine the hell out of it. After an emergency landing however, you stumble upon a desolate mining town on top of the ruins of an ancient civilization. While the prime directive is to mine, soon afterwards you discover that there’s a bit more here than meets the eye, and that’s when Mines gets pretty interesting.
Best summed up as a Metroidvania mining adventure, Mines of Mars offers a lot of freedom in terms of reaching objectives with the understanding that you’ll have to craft certain pieces of equipment to advance. For example, the introductory section offers loads of simple gems and minerals, which will allow you to purchase upgrades to your mining suit which will let you advance further in to dig up better gems to craft even more upgrades, and so on. Reaching deeper regions unveils more of the story told through cryptic cutscenes, as well as new monsters and, eventually, bosses. It’s pseudo-open world experience that starts off slow but picks up with the more time you invest in it.
As you’d expect, mining in Mars is the number one activity that you’ll do. Thankfully, the developers have done a great job streamlining and making it an enjoyable experience. Controls are hidden with mining rocks is as simple as running up to them and picking away (touch and moving the left side of the screen controls movement). It’s a simplified system that works well on the small screen. Early pickaxes are a slow affair, but like the rest of the game, faster and stronger options are available with the right crafting tools.
I really enjoyed the mining aspects of Mines of Mars. Sure, at some points it was a slow, methodical affair, but for me it offered almost a serene experience (most likely due to the awesome music). I also appreciated the sense of adventure in exploring new veins as well as the potential to get lost if you don’t keep track of your whereabouts. Ambience is an element that is overlooked way too often in iOS adventure titles, but Mines of Mars nails it. It’s why tasks as simple as just mining random veins in a corner of the depths is so enjoyable.
Mining is the most important element in Mars, but another aspect that shouldn’t be overlooked is the combat. Enemies in Mines of Mars are diverse and even a little bit scary (mainly due to the limited field of vision). Granted, enemies are actually somewhat rare in Mines of Mars, which I think also increases the tension when you actually encounter them. Thankfully, combat in Mines of Mars is just as streamlined and easy to use as mining, with the right side of the screen controlling an aiming reticle with a delayed auto-shot. Aiming with this kind of mechanism isn’t as precise as I’d like, but it works well enough for the game.
There’s a lot of things that Mines of Mars does right but I think what really makes it work is how well its paced. There’s plenty of mineral veins generously spaced out, and by the time you get to a point where an upgrade is required, odds are you have the resources necessary to craft it. In addition, enemies are also difficult enough to offer a challenge, but rare enough that one isn’t concerned too much with dying. The story is just interesting enough that the little bits and pieces dropped kept me very interested in going further. Combine this with the inherent appeal of underground exploration and Mines of Mars had a tendency to grab ahold of me for just one more mineral run.
It’s amazing how careful attention to details such as music, ambience, pacing and story can take a decent gameplay experience and transform it into a great adventure. The folks at Wicky Ware have done just that, with Mines of Mars being a highly enjoyable melding of exploration and combat wrapped around a side-scrolling mining adventure. I highly recommend iOS gamers give this one a whirl.