Mines of Mars Pros:
Cool art style and fun exploratory gameplay
Variety of items to earn and acquire, as well as enemies to fend off
Terrific original soundtrack that meshes well with game’s atmospheric vibe
Enormous procedurally-generated world and boss battles to boot
Intuitive control scheme
Mines of Mars Cons:
Some unresponsiveness in the controls
You are the lone human on the surface of Mars, shuttling between the crust and the blocky ground below in an effort to explore its hidden secrets, fend off a variety of enemies, and mine several types of minerals. The precious gems are traded to acquire better gear that allows you to delve farther and farther into the strange depths. Armed with a pick axe, a jet pack, and a pistol, you destroy blocks as you search out items of value. There are several block types, each with a unique look and strength. Blocks containing minerals will appear to have shiny gems imbedded in them, making the target of your search fairly obvious. That is, except for the bronze, which blends quite nicely with many of the general dirt blocks you’ll encounter. Tapping on blocks will reveal the bounty contained within via a pop-up text box, though blocks of no value will reveal nothing. There are a number of helpful little robots, too, that give hints about where to find certain elements.
You have limited inventory space to hold gems, and once filled, you must return to the surface, using your jetpack to ascend and seek out the return portal. Once on the surface, you can smelt any ore you’ve found into ingots, cut gems into precious stones, and craft new items out of predefined combinations of ingots and gems. You can upgrade your weapons, obtain larger collection bins, acquire gear that resists heat and damage, improve your jetpack’s efficiency, and much more. Free fuel and ammo is available on the surface, as well as access to a rundown arcade with a couple of mini-games to play. Play continues on in this manner, mining minerals, returning to the surface, converting them, refilling fuel/ammo, and going back for more. As you reshape the block world, you’ll happen upon a variety of enemies, from flying insects to creepy crawly creatures to overly-aggressive flora. There are even boss battles in which to engage. You’ll want to try to avoid these until you’ve upgraded your weapons/gear, as these can be quite tricky to survive. There is even a museum on the surface that holds any special items that you may acquire, many of which likely come from the offering pit. A special area allows you to offer up a mix of the various gems and ingots that you acquire for a chance to snag a special item. The more items you offer up at once, the greater your chance of receiving something cool.
Graphically, Mines of Mars looks fantastic, utilizing a fog-of-war type lighting system that only allows you to see in a short radius around your body. Embedded gems shine and change colors as you near them, and upgrading your equipment can expand the area that you can see. The various shades of gray and brown give all of the blocks unique character and style. The lack of any kind of map forces you to create landmarks along the way and pay close attention to your digging paths, lest you get utterly lost and forget how to return to the portal. Running out of jetpack fuel will cost you everything in your inventory, though you will be beamed back to the surface. Your character’s animations are smooth and the backdrops exposed by destroying blocks are quite breathtaking. The original soundtrack is equally as captivating, providing the right ambient tone for such a lonely adventure. A variety of sound effects help to create the right mood, though we noticed a tendency for the pickaxe sound effect to drop out for a couple of seconds every now and again.
The controls use an invisible joystick on the screen’s left side to handle movements, though it seems to require a deliberate hold on the screen before dragging in a direction to make the miner move. When you come into contact with a block, continue dragging in the direction of contact to chip away at it. Drag down when standing atop a block to destroy the block beneath you. Drag up to engage your jetpack and fly up. You cannot mine upward with your pickaxe, though you can use your weapon to shoot dirt blocks above. You can also hover with your jetpack to shoot out a foothold in the same manner. Blocks containing minerals cannot be destroyed using your weapon. To fire your gun, touch and hold on the right side of the screen to bring up your firearm, then drag in the direction that you want to shoot. The portal works automatically when you step upon it, with just a minor delay. Once on the surface, tap the building that you want to enter or use when its sign lights up. Activating these often required a couple of taps, as did access your inventory from the button in the upper left corner. The delays and retaps can give the controls an unresponsive feel, though patience will get you through just fine.
Replay value is fantastic, as three save slots allow you to have multiple games going at once. The procedurally-generated maps also ensure that each playthrough will be different and that the paths you carve out will be unique. The offering pit seems like a nice way to extend replayability, as you can continue to mine items and offer them up in hopes of coming away with something shiny. There are no social gaming elements at this time, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see achievements added in the future. A co-op mode is already being teased, which sounds like a very intriguing option. A universal app for $4.99, Mines of Mars is a 4.5-Dimple stud.