Let’s face it; catching public transport is the pits. It’s no wonder then, that on-the-go games are swiftly becoming the time sink of choice for countless commuters around the world. Whether it’s playing Fortnite on your phone or Pokémon on your Switch, portable gaming is having a renaissance unlike anything we’ve seen since the release of the GameBoy many moons ago. If, like me, you have a hard time trying to focus on anything too hefty while you have a thousand elbows in your back, you’ll also appreciate the occasional simple game that can offer an almost zen-like escape from the tragedy that is a Melbourne tram at 8:00 am. Turn your eyes to the skies then friends and join me on the red planet, as we become space sparkies in Mars Power Industries.
Matt Damon would be proud of all these happy colonists
Mars Power Industries is uncomplicated gaming at its finest. When you fire it up for the first time, you’re dropped straight into it with nary an instruction on what to do. Thankfully, gameplay is essentially just moving your cursor across a small square grid and placing power towers in correct spots (circular blue crystals) to deliver that good juice to various dwellings. As you progress throughout the 70-odd base levels things get a little more complex, adding new types of towers, various hazards that prevent you from dropping pylons or destroying ones you placed earlier, and even the ability to shift the colony buildings to a more desirable location.
In my opinion, the best thing about this game is that there is no score or time limits and you can undo your last move at the press of a button (or if you are a chump like me, undo all your moves and start again). This means that you are free to take your time and work out the puzzle at your own pace, without any distractions. Since you are given your pieces in a set order and you can only place them in certain locations there are only one or two solutions to each level (as far as I can tell), but you aren’t rewarded for using fewer pieces or punished for using them all, it just quietly moves on to the next grid regardless. Some levels also include a strawberry for you to collect and if you do, you can unlock more levels. These are simple to get and needn’t be worked into a solution, you can just place your towers in a way that allows you to snatch it and then undo to the start again. Also, Mars Power Industries is just positively delightful to look at and listen to. A gentle, meditative soundtrack underscores your efforts and the cute pixel art with soft pastel colours makes it a treat for the eyes as well.
Even on Mars, spikes are bad
There are some downsides to simplicity though and I really found it hard to play the game for more than 15-20 minutes at a time because it felt a bit dull. In The Talos Principle, I’d spend hours trying to work out a puzzle or a clever way of solving it and in Angry Birds, I’d always replay a level if I didn’t get three stars. The limited gameplay and lack of scoring is a refreshing change for a puzzle game, but it did mean that I sometimes felt uninspired to continue playing.
Where people used to have crossword puzzles and books of Sudoku grids, now we have games like Mars Power Industries. Given that it’s only the price of a cup of coffee, it’s worth a look if you feel like it will help pass the time and keep your mind sharp while you’re trying not to breathe in some other commuter’s overpowering aftershave. Don’t expect a very taxing cognitive workout though – apparently being an electrician in space is super easy.
Reviewed on Switch // Review code supplied by publisher