PC sidescrollers are not the most popular PC genre in the modern era but many are quite wonderful. Off the top of my head I can name several which are well worth a look including Super Meat Boy, Trine and Trine 2, and even Terraria. These games combine simple gameplay with nice and highly functional graphics to create an experience which is straight up fun. Waking Mars is a sidescroller in this tradition and has some stand-out merits of its own.Waking Mars is set at the end of the 21st century, in which mankind has launched a manned expedition of the planet Mars. The player character is the astronaut Liang, who encounters alien plant life and a devastating cave-in at the onset of his Martian adventure. Buried beneath the surface of the red planet, Liang must find his way to the base camp and discover the secret of Martian life along the way. This is the sort of story I enjoy and it is told through character dialogs between Liang, his AI companion ART, and his teammate Amani. The characters are workable enough; Liang is stoic even in the face of aliens, ART is a less clever GLADOS without the malcontent, and Amani has some secrets to reveal, but none represented poorly. However their interruptions, especially in the first half of the game, are incredibly frequent and often stop the gameplay dead in its tracks.
Well I can classify you as annoying.
As mentioned before, the game is a 2D sidescroller. Liang is outfitted with a jetpack which never runs out of fuel. So much of the game takes place in vertical as well as horizontal spaces. The deadly plants and hazards of Mars can chip away at Liang's health, but healing plants are easy to create and I did not die once on normal difficulty. In many ways, the challenge of this game is not in its survival difficulty, but in how the player controls their environment. Often the two are connected and situations can get out of hand as firebomb plants begin taking over an area. However, most of the time players will simply be evaluating their placement decisions as they pertain to the eco system as a whole.
Sometimes I put plants on the ceiling, for science.
The graphics in Waking Mars are 2D paper-like objects in a 2D game space. Also, being that this is Mars, most of these objects are tinted red. Especially at the start of the game, players can expect to be learning the boundaries of the graphical space as well as the game mechanics. Objects can sometimes appear to be part of the background or foreground but will block players unexpectedly. Many times I was surprised by a falling stalactite which I thought was part of the other uncollidable falling debris. This passes after a time and the graphics turn out to be very functional. However, the camera zooms in and out sometimes unexpectedly and can linger without panning with the character at some points which causes moments of doubt especially at small crawlable areas or pits.
I hope I don't find Lemiwinks down here...
Overall, Waking Mars is a very good game. There is very little to discourage fans of puzzle games or even just independent games. It sets a good standard for indie games with solid gameplay and presentation in a digestible bundle. I am happy to place it up with the likes of Super Meat Boy and others and it has in every way earned its place.