When it comes to the capacity of my forgiveness and my level of perseverance, Mars Chaos Menace took a mile for the inch that I gave it. This is a game that was clearly meant to be more than what it is, yet finds itself contained within a tedious process that doesn’t nearly stand as tall nor as firm as even your average shmup. It’s a shame, really, because underneath its messy presentation and its unstable framework, rests some truly tight gameplay that initially feels quite gratifying. Until, that is, everything begins to falls apart.
The game comes with a loose story that, as to be expected for a game of this type, doesn’t really hit any notable highs. Humanity is terraforming planets within our solar system, including that of Mars. Though, through the use of this advanced technology, humans have attracted gigantic alien freaks from across the galaxy. These monsters have only one goal in mind; to eradicate humanity and cleanse each and every planet of life. The game’s leading role is immediately attacked on the red planet, and as such, decides to take to the fray.
That’s pretty much the bulk of the plot here. Starting out, you’re given the choice of a player name, a difficulty, and an aircraft. There’s not much that alters the fields of play outside of your chosen difficulty, though, once you’ve selected your preferences, you’re thrown straight into the thick of it. The game’s mission hub resembles Mars, and here, you can select what level you wish to take on. Levels are progression-gated, meaning that you’ll need to beat the current level to unlock the next. There’s also some hidden levels too.
The game takes you around a terraformed Mars, giving you several unique level designs as a result. These are typically categorized in several groups of two; Jungle Sector 1 and 2, Underwater Sector 1 and 2, and so on and so forth. Once you beat both sectors of a given area, you’ll unlock an extra level that sees you collecting yellow gems via riding into them. The aim of play here is to avoid gems of another color, or else you’ll force a level restart. It’s simple to understand, though it does feel quite out of place alongside its main servings.
There’s not much to keep on top of as far as the game’s handling is concerned. Movement is achieved through the use of the left stick, with a shield tethered to LT, and a laser beam assigned to RT. Outside of that, you can shoot backwards with the A button, shoot forwards with the X button, and utilize a special attack with the B button. To the game’s credit, as stated at the head of this review, it all handles quite fluidly and remains responsive throughout. The problems, on the other hand, rest elsewhere, and there’s many of them.
The aim of the game sees you starting each level at the foot of the screen, and blasting a range of enemies as you work upwards until you hit the level’s end boss. Levels take roughly a minute or two to work through. That is, when you’re lucky enough to bypass the game’s horrendous design choices. You see, despite its fluid handling, practically every single component of the game is working against you. It takes just one hit to be wiped out, and even if you’ve got your shield up, so much as one collision with an enemy means death.
That wouldn’t be much of an issue in any standard shmup, but in Mars Chaos Menace, most deaths feel cheap and unfair. Enemies will parade around the screen in rapid succession, and I’ll admit, it can be quite pleasing to lay them to waste in the space of a blink. However, that sense of pleasure is completely chased away when you’re constantly hit by an enemy that’s just catapulted onto the screen from out of nowhere, barely giving you any reaction time. It makes for a shmup that seems to be based on memorization rather than actual skill.
It doesn’t help matters that enemies will oftentimes shoehorn you into the path of other enemies, with no feasible way to overcome these moments other than just choosing which foe will take your life. It gets worse. The game’s level design (particularly the Snowy Sector) blends far too much with enemy projectiles. There’s not enough distinction present to aid the player in knowing what they’re expected to avoid. This becomes a bigger issue when you’re shooting as well, and even more so when you’re utilizing your mighty laser beam.
The laser beam will stretch the full length of the screen, covering the majority of incoming direct fire, but not nullifying it. Several times did I target one group of enemies, only to be completely ignorant to their return fire due to this lackluster presentation. Once again, more refined distinction would have gone a long way. In fairness to the game, this is only apparent for a few of its enemies, and simply because their projectiles are colored in such a way that they’re too easy to miss. Still, death will come often, and it always feels unfair.
Your shield can take quite a beating before it breaks, and once it does, you’ll need to wait a short amount of time for it to recharge. When your shield is penetrated, you’re given one special attack to defend yourself with – to which you can hold three in total. These attacks will often clear the screen and give you a brief reprieve. Your laser beam also comes with a running cool-down, but I found pulsing the trigger an effective way of always ensuring that I could rely on its use. Outside of that, you can pick up some additional firepower throughout.
Small beacons are spaced out on each map, and by shooting the bulb at the head of any given beacon, a small pick-up will float out. When obtained, additional guns will be added to the sides of your ship. These pick-ups stack, meaning you can nab as many as you like to bolster your firepower’s strength. They do eventually wear out and detach, so it pays off to use them whilst you have them. Should you die, you’ll need to pick them up again before they eventually leave the screen. That, ladies and gents, is the bulk of the game’s depth.
There’s only a handful of enemy variants in the game, many of which are predictable at best. The majority of them will fall with some basic fire, but the tougher enemies require use of your laser beam or special attack. The game makes a habit of throwing far too many enemies at you at once. Now, I know that this is standard practice for a shmup, but when we factor in all of the above issues, it gets too frustrating too quickly, even on its easiest setting. Most levels need to be replayed a billion times just to memorize enemy spawns.
Only then will you know when to move, where to move to, and when and where to shoot. Hell, even when you have that level of insight, Mars Chaos Menace is still freakishly annoying to play. The game’s hit detection seems to be slightly out of whack too. It’s not uncommon to find yourselves in a position in which a rain of bullets are heading towards you, with no shield, special attack, or laser to rely upon. When this happens, you’ll need to bob and weave between the onslaught of enemy fire. Chances are, you’ll lose a life.
Not because it’s particularly hard to accomplish, but because your hit-box is never really all that consistent. Then, there’s the game’s devastating boss battles. Once you reach the end of every level, a boss encounter will occur. Mars Chaos Menace has a decent variation of bosses to take on, but most of them are far too overpowered. Especially on a (at best) three life limit. One such boss puts you in a caged field of energy, restricting much of your ability to move. It then litters your small field of movement with dozens and dozens of attacks.
The only thing you can do is prey that your shield will absorb most of the damage. That is, unless the boss headbutts you and takes your life in the process. I can extend the same level of criticism to most of the game’s bosses, such as the second to final boss that is possibly the most poorly developed OP boss I’ve ever encountered in a shmup. The whole ordeal just feels too chance and luck-based, which again is a shame, because its easy to see the game’s potential. Longevity can be found in setting high-scores and earning achievements.
The achievements are tied to time invested above all else; play this many games, kill that many enemies, and so on. Scores are charted to the right of the screen during play, showing your current score and the max score. There’s not much length to it overall though. In regards to the visual and audio design, Mars Chaos Menace is serviceable. Whilst there’s a nice variety of diverse maps to take to, nothing really ever stands out. I can say the same about its audio design. It’s all just merely standard. Make of that what you will folks.
Had the developer spent more time polishing what they’ve created, and refining its aesthetics and effects, we could have had something fairly decent on our hands. I’ve made it all the way up until the second to last level, and I have no incentive whatsoever to continue on from there. The level’s ridiculously tough boss encounter, together with the headache of needing to restart the level over and over upon each time said boss kills me, is far beyond my level of perseverance. Fans of the genre may find enjoyment, but I have my doubts.
Mars Chaos Menace is too hard to recommend due to being chock-full of cheap deaths, awkward level presentation, and poor design choices. To the game’s credit, and a forefront necessity for any shmup, its handling remains fluid and responsive throughout. That, however, means next to nothing when much of the difficulty within is relayed through little more than its incompetent development. Simply put, it’s a waste of digital space.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.