The English Victorian adventurer and intrepid inventor has been immortalised through all manner of media. HG Wells has come along with “The Time Machine”, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has delivered us many Sherlock Holmes tales and most recently, the games industry has allowed us to be enthralled by the very tongue in cheek “Strange Brigade“. Now 39 Days to Mars takes the Victorian gentleman and his talent for steampunk ingenuity to the limit. Can a homemade piece of 19th-century spaceship madness make it to Mars on time, without any mishaps along the way, or will peril be discovered… with us running out of tea and scones on the way?
39 Days to Mars on Xbox One has been originally designed to be played with a friend in a cooperative fashion. It’s a puzzle adventure game that needs two hands to play, two minds to discuss the brain teasers on offer, and two mouths to laugh at the farcical attempts at trying to make the perfect cup of tea. This is where the game excels, seeing two Victorian gentlemen individually controlled by the players.
The game starts with you and your companion placed in a 2D environment, residing in a house. You are preparing for the launch of your mission to Mars, but there are still a few odd jobs and tasks to complete. These take the form of ingenious puzzles and brain teasers. For example, one task involves getting a key on a hook around a maze. One of you is found controlling the vertical movement of the hook and the other the horizontal movement, so communication and clear instructions are the key (see what I have done there?) to success. Another example is in a tea making section in which you have to pour a kettle; one of you has to grab the kettle and the other make it pour. This causes chaos and “It’s a knockout” type mayhem… but it’s really good fun.
39 Days to Mars takes you through a variety of puzzles, space attacks and weird games in its two-hour running time. The puzzles are tricky enough, but none – apart from a couple – are ever too frustrating. I have to admit to getting stuck on one puzzle for an hour, and even with the game giving me huge hints I still couldn’t work out the answer. But, even throughout that time, I really was intrigued rather than frustrated because I was enjoying the journey so much and wanted to see what would happen next.
Single players are still catered for in this, even though the developers recommend that you play it with a local friend. Instead of another Victorian gentleman on screen, your spacefaring buddy is a cat. Here the control system when tackling the puzzles is very much in the vain of the “Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons“, requiring you to operate the left and right stick at the same time. This feels very much like rubbing your tummy and patting your head to start with, but after a while you get used to it and it all works fine. The problem you might have with the single player side of things though is comparable to that feeling when you hear the best New Year’s Eve party happening next door, and you’re sitting at home with the cat and a can of cheap lager. It’s the same evening, but two very different experiences.
The game has a hand-drawn scrappy quality that is delightful to look at and it is obvious that a lot of humour and enjoyment has gone into the making of it. The 2D world is great and the spaceship design is rather brilliant, giving you a sliced down view of all the inner workings of the ship. The puzzles themselves have the design of a mad inventor scribbling down rough notes and drawings on scrap pieces of paper, and this works brilliantly. This overall tone is a delight and it is this which is the beating heart of the whole experience.
In the audio department, 39 Days to Mars on Xbox One employs a very wistful, beautifully played piano soundtrack throughout with slight variations in regards to the gameplay. Overall it is very pleasant to the ear. The voiceover work is solid throughout as well, with a great “stiff upper lip” English accent that goes well with the nicely written text and humour throughout.
I have really enjoyed my time with the shortish experience of 39 Days to Mars. The looks and soundtrack are really interesting and the mind testing puzzles are a delight to attempt. The humour of the English Inventor tackling space travel, but still needing the perfect cup of tea in the process, amused me a great deal, and whilst I do think you will have a ball with a friend in local co-op, the single player is still fun. It’s a shame that there is not online co-op as well, because that would allow access to a whole other market.
At the end of the day though, if you like a puzzler then put down your cup of tea, put on a suit and hat and play 39 Days to Mars.