Review – Jupiter & Mars
Dolphins were my absolute favorite animals as a child. I studied all about the different species, characteristics, and habitats across the world. My love for them was so strong that I wanted to be a marine biologist for a long time. That was until I realized how much I abhorred cold water and the dream dissipated. Still, I have always been enamored with their personalities and charm. So when I saw a new PSVR title featuring two dolphins in their underwater realm, I couldn’t help but get excited. Was Jupiter & Mars from Tigertron Inc. going to allow me the feeling of truly experiencing swimming alongside these majestic creatures? Unfortunately, not quite.
Jupiter & Mars takes place on Earth in the not-so-distant future. Thanks to mankind’s reckless contributions to global warming, the polar ice caps have melted and the world has been covered by the seas. Wait, isn’t that also the plot of the terrible movie, Waterworld? Well, much like Waterworld, this game can’t tread water. It sinks well into the realm of mediocrity.
This game initially grabbed my attention because it looked like a better version of Ecco the Dolphin. In fact, there are several similarities. You play as a dolphin, use echolocation, explore the vast ocean, consider whales to be your deities, and are constantly made to feel guilty for mankind heedlessly trashing our precious aquatic world. Playing as the two titular dolphins, Jupiter and Mars, you are tasked by the elder whales to seek out and destroy the machinery left behind by the dastardly humans in order to restore life as it once was in the ocean. The plot is about as deep as a tide pool.
Gameplay-wise, there isn’t a whole lot of variety. You control Jupiter and can make her swim, ping her echolocation, shoot a pulse bubble to stun enemies, and somewhat interact with various sea life. You can also have her target a breakable object and direct Mars to smash it. Occasionally, you can break through a fence to reveal a new pathway or reveal a hidden object to help you on your journey. For the most part though, nearly everything Mars smashes will amount to nothing. That’s my biggest complaint with Jupiter & Mars: aside from figuring out where to go, finding machines to destroy, or constantly having to rescue a set number of sea creatures, there’s really not much else to this game.
At times it seems like the game is going to ramp up into something more interesting, but it never really does. There are moments when you’ll discover a famed landmark from around the world, like the Statue of Liberty or Big Ben, and it really helps to drive home the point that our world as we know it now is truly gone. While the imagery does paint a powerful cautionary picture, I feel that Tigertron Inc. missed a huge opportunity to provide some fantastic underwater exploration within these seascapes. While seeing the Statue of Liberty in a similar fashion as in Planet of the Apes (only wetter) is pretty cool, I can’t help but think that being able to explore more of New York in its watery grave would have been much more impactful. Imagine swimming through the streets of Manhattan to see marine life reclaiming their dominance over abandoned taxis and street vendor carts. Or better yet, braving the subway tunnels and encountering some sort of carnivorous sea creature lurking within its dark depths.
There’s no real sense of danger in Jupiter & Mars. The other marine life doesn’t really attack you and the closest you’ll find to an aquatic adversary are the jellyfish that block your path. A simple pulse blast stuns them and makes them shrink so you can pass. Not exactly a battle for the ages. I even tried to engage some hammerhead sharks lazily swimming around, only to be disappointed when they ignored me completely. The only true “enemy” are the machines left behind by mankind that emit harmful shock waves. However, even if you are hit by one, you won’t die, you’ll simply be brought back to the last safe spot you were in. Jupiter & Mars is more about the lackadaisical journey rather than combat.
The graphics are nothing to write home about. The dolphins are rendered somewhat decently, but nearly everything else looks like something you’d find in a last gen system. Most of the animals and objects have simple geometric shapes and smooth basic textures. When using your echolocation, everything looks more bright and colorful, but even more rudimentary in its designs.
It also seems like Tigertron had a tough time deciding on one art style. There are neon colors and bright lights all throughout the scenery and animal life, especially when using echolocation, but none of it feels organic. The neon effects aren’t showcased by animals who provide natural bioluminescence, nor are they species found within colorful coral reefs. On the other hand, there isn’t enough of the vibrant colors within the rest of the environment to make it seem like this whole thing was purposefully a psychedelic choice. It feels odd and largely out of place.
Now you do have the option to play Jupiter & Mars in either normal mode or in VR. While VR is definitely the way to go so you can feel the scope of the world around you and experience better immersion, there are some drawbacks to it. There is a sizeable drop in resolution when in VR, so while it’s fun to feel a bit more like you’re actually underwater, everything around you looks more primitive. The draw distance, while already poor in normal mode, really struggles while in VR mode. It also suffers from some noticeable pop-ins in both modes.
I know that the music for Jupiter & Mars was a big focal point, so I feel really bad for saying that it didn’t really do much for me. It largely features chill electronic beats that are suppose to compliment the trippy color scheme, but after a very short while it becomes incredibly repetitive. After a while of searching around for some hidden barricade to break down, I became so annoyed with hearing the same musical loop over and over that I muted the sound. The tunes do change up when in different locations, but for the most part they pretty much all sound the same.
Jupiter & Mars is a mellow exploration game that tries its best to deliver a powerful message about our impact on the environment. Unfortunately, most of this short game falls pretty flat. It seems like it has ambitious ideas that just aren’t fully fleshed out. There are some cool moments like when you swim alongside a massive whale while in VR, but aside from small instances like that, there’s not a whole lot of interesting gameplay. Although, this game does donate some of its proceeds to two different oceanic charities, so at least you can feel good about your purchase while you’re being bored to tears.
The use of neon colors intermittently was an odd choice and the graphics look like some you’d find on a last gen system.
The controls are basic, but can often get frustrating, especially when the camera goes haywire when you’re close to a wall or rock formation.
The electronic soundtrack seems like a good idea to go with the visuals, but it quickly becomes repetitive. The whale and dolphin noises are alright though.
Fun Factor: 4.5
The “puzzles” are underwhelming and there is a noticeable lack of gameplay variety. Swim around to find your next path, shut down machines, and find a specific number of various ocean life. That’s it.
Final Verdict: 5.0
Jupiter & Mars is available now on PS4 and PSVR.
A copy of Jupiter & Mars was provided by the publisher.