Developer / Publisher – Tantalus, Wicked Witch / Tigerton
Price(PS) – US $24.99 / EU €24.99 / UK £18.99 / AU $36.95
Release Date – April 22nd, 2019
Control Method – DS4
Pro Patch – No
Digital only – Yes
Reviewed on –PSVR (PS4 Pro)
For anybody who gamed it up in the 90’s there is ONLY 1 dolphin game that matters, Ecco the Dolphin, and since that games release NO GAME has dared tread upon the glories brought to us from that side scrolling adventure title. Well, now we get Jupiter and Mars, which has you controlling and directing a pair of dolphins as they explore a post apocalyptic version of earth’s oceans left polluted by mankind with your task being to rid the oceans of ancient but deadly technology.
The controls are handled with the DS4 and allow for a couple options including navigation by button presses only or by headset tracking so where you are looking is where you are swimming. You play as Jupiter, a dolphin with sonar ability to highlight the environment and showcase objects of note with another sonar-type blast that can push certain wildlife out of your way or trigger others into action. You can also control Mars, your mate who, when you are looking at items in the environment, can be told to smash them or interact with them when called for. It’s a dynamic that is used throughout the game as you explore the depths of the ocean searching for hidden items or animals needed to bypass barriers or new abilities that allow you to swim deeper or faster. Each of the levels is relatively large and typically tasks you with finding and freeing specific animals which may have gotten lost or caught in a trap of some type. Once you stumble across human machines, some light stealth mechanics come into play as well as interaction with consoles to shut down barriers and power down the enemy bots. Death results in a respawn back to your last checkpoint, which was typically mere seconds from where I was before dying and overall the game plays relatively smooth.
Jupiter and Mars looks alright in the headset but does take a steep visual downgrade when compared to the flat version of the game with Pro support clearly lacking at the games’ launch. Still, what’s here definitely pops in the headset thanks to very contrasting visuals with bright glowing neon wildlife populating the ocean and its much more subdued tones. Initially it’s all about nature but as you advance through the campaign, remnants of humanity rear it ugly head in the form of sunken cities and wreckage from monstrous vessels. Active technology keeps wildlife at bay pulsing energy that can kill you in one blast, so caution is often the best course of action. Whenever you use your sonar ability, the world lights up for a few seconds in tron-like fashion though reminded me much of games like Blind and Stifled in the darker sections when you couldn’t see very much with out those sonic blasts. The large-scale levels promote exploration with hidden areas usually revealing some cool post-apocalyptic visuals or cute little pocket of nature. Everything does suffer from a fair bit of aliasing and pixelation, but overall, I thought the game still looked alright.
The depths of the ocean are relatively quiet with ambient noises, the swooshing sounds of Mars and yourself swimming as well the sonar blasts whenever you decide to use them and the human machines which make strikingly mechanical outbursts. The music accompanying Jupiter and Mars is the star of the show with super friendly, national-geographic-esque orchestral tracks splashed with a bit of sci-fi playing throughout the campaign. More intense action music kicks in during some encounters and while the songs do repeat the longer you are in a stage, they never once bothered me and fit seamlessly with whatever was happening around you.
As this is the dire future, the polar ice caps have melted submerging much of what was above the surface which gives us some very cool visual moments as you swim through cities and other human locales. Besides the campaign objectives, each stage has a few hidden items to find, but some cannot be accessed until you unlock the abilities to bypass the obstacles blocking your path. This Metroid Vania style mechanic extends the game time by unlocking new areas, but if you have no desire to do so, it’s not necessary. Completing just the main story will probably take about 4 hours or so with the bonus searching easily adding a few more hours to that. Initially I was fairly intrigued by the oceanic world and my tasks, but after the 2nd level, destroying the machines became rather monotonous as it’s the same strategy every time; see a machine, avoid its blasts, look for and destroy the power source and move on. A late game boss battle against a monstrous sea creature was incredibly underwhelming with the final level breathing a little life back into it thanks to the mythical settings you visit. The head-tracked motions reminded me a lot of Eagle Flight and while it works in large expanses, getting to close to the scenery could result in some awkward adjustments to right yourself. Visiting the menu list all the areas and items you have found and are still missing and here you can also view 2 videos from the game’s benefactors highlighting 2 causes trying to help our oceans today as well links to their respective websites.
For all the cool visual moments and occasionally fun gameplay, Jupiter and Mars commits one of entertainments biggest sins in just being rather dull. That’s not to say it’s bad and does have some cool VR moments, but what this game boils down too is a repetitive formula for dispatching machines and item hunting, the latter of which is only there to extend game time. The story told is minimal but does the job at getting you from beginning to end and it is still fun to swim around the ocean, just maybe play through the game one level at a time and take a break.
What would I pay? Jupiter and Mars sells for $25US which I think is a tad high, even though a portion of the games sales goes toward the programs mentioned in the options menu. There is a lot of goodness to pull from Jupiter and Mars, largely in the presentation factor, but that presentation does take a hit in the headset with the half-promise of a Pro patch coming if sales warrant it. While it more than meets my $10/hour pricing criteria, I found the middle sections of the game felt way too long and given just how simplistic the gameplay is, I would like to see this dropped to $15…maybe $20 at the most.
Tigertron provided The VR GRid with a press code for this title and, regardless of this review, we thank them for that!