Waking Mars is revolutionary. If I had to give it a genre, I would call it a Dynamic Puzzle Exploration Game. It is a 2D Platformer game with a very user-friendly item management system. It has definite influences from classic Nintendo games, combining the elements of exploration, isolation and atmosphere of Metroid with growing plants and food/nutrient management of Pikmin. Anyone who enjoys either of these should take a look at this game. Anyone who likes both (like myself) will probably sit down and play the entire game in one sitting. It is a rather short game, lasting anywhere from 5-12 hours, depending on how thorough you want to be. The 17 Steam Achievements are all very easy to get on your first playthrough if you give it effort.
SYNOPSIS: The basic premise of the game is this: you are an astronaut exploring a recently-discovered cave system on Mars. The only other characters are the Mars HQ woman and your environmental suit AI.
ZOA: As you enter the cave system, you discover living plant-like creatures, termed "Zoa" by your AI. These Zoa grow from different types of seeds planted in patches of fertile soil within the caves. You can carry a number of each type of seed at a time, saving them for later use.
RESEARCH: As you interact with the environment, your AI develops a research log. Once you have discovered all of the elements of a certain subject, you unlock a Steam achievement for that subject. Some of the elements are fairly straight-forward; others will take some serious thinking or random luck.
BIOMASS: Each Zoa in a chamber contributes to a Biomass counter. Once different levels of Biomass are reached, certain events occur. Some include barriers opening to new parts of the map, certain Zoa waking out of dormancy, etc.
SOUNDTRACK: The soundtrack is very ambient in nature and has an organic feel to it. It completes the atmospheric sense that the game presents well and does not distract from the action whatsoever.
ART: This game does not have your run-of-the-mill shooter 3D render graphics, as it is only a platformer. That doesn't mean that it has the pixelated style that has been popularized of late. Waking Mars has beautifully drawn background layers that fade in and out, giving the illusion of real depth. The art team did an impressive job with very original plant-form creature design. It is a bit on the minimalist side and gives a very realistic, tangible feel to alien Mars.
CONS: The only real downside to this game is the protagonist's personality. The AI is bright, happy and humorous. The HQ woman is funny at moments and believable the rest of the time. The main character is cold and sounds like he's talking in a combination of dictionary-speak and Medieval English. It is very awkward compared to the natural characters he talks to. This only really gets on your nerves during cutscenes, which you can skip (right mouse button).
I picked this game up on sale, but after playing it I'd say it's definitely worth the inexpensive standard price.
Final Score: 10/10