Taking humans to Mars is an almost impossible goal for NASA to achieve. Not only does it take the best part of a year to get there, with a two-year round trip forecast, there are health problems to consider; muscle wasting, mental stress, and cosmic radiation all on the attack. And then when we do get there, we’ll no doubt discover that the atmosphere is knackered, everything will try to kill us and somehow we’ll have to get back to Earth again. Mars Power Industries Deluxe puts us slap-bang on the Red Planet though, trying to survive for nearly 100 years. Are you up for the challenge?
Mars Power Industries Deluxe is, at its heart, a turn-based puzzle game. There is a story hidden beneath the puzzle mechanics that at first glance seems basic, but should you take the time to look again, you will discover a lot is going on under the hood. You play as a versatile plumber and electrician who has travelled to Mars tasked with the job of reconnecting abandoned settlements on the Red Planet. However, why the settlers left and the reasons they did are hinted at the more you play through the game.
As you get about halfway through the game strange things start to happen; structures become alien and wormholes appear in levels that take you to mysterious new worlds. There isn’t any text to explain anything – just imagery in the level design and strange symbols that appear suddenly between levels. The developers say that Dune has been an influence while designing the game, and a bit of Kubrick’s 2001. It’s because of that that Mars Power Industries Deluxe is intriguing and I like the fact that the team behind it is giving a story to what is, in essence, is a mobile puzzle game.
The game works whereby you are presented with a small square area in each level, with it consisting of some buildings that need to be supplied with electricity. Each area can be defined by a grid system in which certain squares flash green when things can be placed on them. On the left-hand side of this main play area are your playable assets; it is these which are used to connect the buildings to the electrical grid. These assets come in the form of generators of all shapes and sizes, allowing you to provide power to adjacent pieces; some delivering this to the left and right of its placed position on the map, while others will provide electricity to the three grid places in front of it, while more still will provide power to the two spots directly in front of it. You will need to use each and every one of these as they come into play, placing them in order to get the buildings powered up, which will see your job complete and the conclusion of the level reached. These assets are ordered and given out in a predetermined way like the blocks in a Tetris game.
Some sections of the map will come complete with spots like rocks or spikes where you can’t place generators, so you are left to work out the order of placements – it’s here where the game becomes like that of chess, planning all your moves in advance. Luckily there is a handy backtrack option which lets you rewind each move so you can plan, fail, plan again and then hopefully succeed. And as you progress, you are then also left to start providing water as well, which adds another element of brain scratching and then, further still, structures appear in your list that will move a whole row in the grid one space vertically, or horizontally, changing the position of the objects in that row.
Visually Mars Power Industries Deluxe is simple but effective in its design. The game was first released in mobile form and you can tell too – the game design would certainly work best on the little screen. I have however liked the tone, especially when the stranger elements come into play as everything just becomes that little bit weirder, with changes in symbols and colour. And whilst it’s a little thing, it has to be mentioned that Mars Power Industries Deluxe comes with a great title screen, all hand-drawn and beautiful. The soundtrack is stunning and works perfectly within the puzzling tone: it’s an elegant piece of cyberpunk synth soundscape and electronic beats that is able to provide the perfect accompaniment to the five hours or so that you’ll need to spend in this game’s company.
I have found Mars Power Industries Deluxe to be both compelling and interesting to play. There are moments where I found things a bit too simple and the gameplay fast gets too familiar, but then the game turns itself on its head and starts to push the boundaries of what it’s trying to be. There is a lot of game here for the amazingly cheap price, and I love the way it creates a strange narrative through its bare minimal, wordless, visuals. If you’re not keen on the puzzler genre or find thinking ahead a bit of a dull curve, this won’t be for you, but if you do, and fancy take a trip to Mars, then Mars Power Industries Deluxe on Xbox One is worth a try.