I just received my copy of Life On Mars – A “Metroidvania” style adventure game, I purchased for the Sega Genesis. I liked the game, but there were quite a few things that bugged me about it. I wanted to do my own review, but I also wanted to link to one that’s mostly positive for an alternative perspective. Luckily, Onaretrotrip just posted their review (above) and I really think that’s the one to watch. I’ll post my thoughts below, but the one thing I’ll mention here: This game is only available as a physical cartridge and the developer has no intention of selling it as a ROM to prevent piracy. So, think twice about dropping $75 on this…
Pre-Order Here: https://kai-magazine-software.fwscart.com
Download the demo: https://mega.nz/file/Phon3D7R#dB71o8x-1pIP4KiT_9e_kbRDKcXqeEyMW7gli6caJjs
Before my “review”, I just want to note the package was good quality and the PCB did have a beveled edge, making this safe to use in your consoles! I really appreciate when dev’s take the time to get this right!
Before I begin, I want to remind you that opinions are subjective and you may disagree and love the game! Heck, maybe I’m just super-picky about my favorite style of game…or maybe I’m in a grumpy mood and would love it if I played it another time??? Either way, here are my opinions, about four hours into the game – WARNING: Some spoilers are in here!!!
First, I agree with Onaretrotip that it felt like more of an “exploration run & gun platformer than a Metroidvania”. That’s not a bad or good thing and it still has some Metroid-elements to it, but I wanted to point that out.
The next thing I noticed is there really isn’t any “music”, just ambient sounds. While that might be an artistic choice, the Super Metroid and Castlevania soundtracks are legendary and part of what made those games so interesting. I would have loved to hear an amazing soundtrack, using the Genesis audio chips.
…and maybe the reason a new soundtrack wasn’t made for the Genesis is because this was ported over from the original MSX release? I must have misunderstood when I wrote my original post promoting this game, as I thought it was made specifically for the Sega Genesis. Totally my fault for not researching fully before writing that post, but apparently this game is seven years old and made with some assets stolen from Metroid (admitted by the creator): https://www.msx.org/news/software/en/life-mars-kai-magazine-released
There are some cool weapons you’ll acquire, but your original gun is never really upgraded significantly. This was super disappointing, as one of my favorite things about the Metroid games was how you can backtrack through earlier sections with an upgraded gun an blast the heck out of everything. While yes, you can “level up” your gun, it never feels like an upgrade, cause it’s such a slow progression.
Some bosses had patterns to learn, which is always fun! At least one boss didn’t have a pattern though – I basically had to blast away at it and run THROUGH it taking damage to get to the other side and continue blasting. There was no way to jump over it and no pattern I could find. Onaretrotrip couldn’t find a pattern either and showed this at 8:52 in their review.
Speaking of jumping, that never felt as satisfying as Super Metroid and there were other issues with the controls as well:
The controls felt off to me. I think the best way to describe it would be that it feels more like the controls of a game you’d find on the NES, not a 16-bit system. Here’s some things that really stood out:
- Pressing up + L or R stops to aim. This means you can’t run and shoot diagonally, but it also means if you accidentally hit up when moving in either direction, you STOP moving.
- In order to activate the eventual run upgrade, you double tap the direction you’re walking in. This is excruciating, as you often end up frantically trying to tap to run…but accidentally hit Up and stop moving altogether. This might be fine as a last-resort for 3-button controller mapping, but a run button should have been an option for 6 button controllers.
- Tapping start changes special weapons and holding start for a few seconds pauses. This is fine, except when you’re near a save point – If you tap start to change your weapon, you’ll save the game, which “locks” the game for a few seconds. This is super frustrating if you’re trying to jump back into the action after a boss battle and it happens much more often than you’d expect. Why not just press A and confirm like other Metroidvanias?
- I really think taking the time to create separate mappings for three and six button controllers would have made a bigger difference. And it would have also made this feel like a true “Genesis” experience, as most later Genesis / Mega Drive games had these options.
I also found a bunch of things in the game that felt like “bugs”. I mean, some absolutely were, but maybe others were just my perception?
- After receiving the game, I accidentally hit “continue” instead of “New Game” and it crashed:
I emailed the creator to make sure I didn’t have a defective cartridge and that my games would properly save. It appears their final QA checks weren’t very thorough before ordering almost 1000 of them. Here was their response:
- “It is 100% safe to play the game.
I disabled the routine to check if there was a previously saved game or not in order to solve a bug and after solving it I forgot to re-enable the check.The error occurs because it is loading corrupted save data that causes the game engine to do things that is not programmed to do.
It is totally harmless. Once you reach a save station you will never see that error again.”
- “It is 100% safe to play the game.
- Once, after saving, the sound just stopped working. All sound: Effect, music, everything. Now, since I had just saved, this was a total non-issue and power cycling got me right back to were I was with sound working. Not a big deal, but an odd bug worth pointing out.
- I also found a glitch in ceiling of one room that when you fall, you go back to the beginning of the room. The review above found this at the 8:30 mark, but they didn’t go far enough left to trigger the glitch. I wonder what this was?
- Some enemies don’t seem to take hits when right in front of you – You need to be a step away. I found this really frustrating and ended up having to carefully plan some moves during parts of the game that should have been fun shooting sessions. Hit detection is crucial to any video game and while this might have been a “controls” complaint (or maybe just me playing it wrong?), it certainly felt like a bug to me.
- One of the bosses (a tree?) disappeared after I died. Or maybe I killed it at the exact moment I died? Either way, when I went back to the room after respawning, the boss was gone. I’ll have to check Onaretrotip’s full playthrough video when it’s uploaded (I’ll add it to the bottom of this post when he does) to see if he ran into the same thing.
I still plan on finishing this game and I absolutely do NOT hate it. I just think it didn’t feel as polished as I expected…especially considering the cartridge-only purchase option. If I paid $10 for this ROM, I think I’d be far less picky, but $75 isn’t cheap for a game that was originally on the MSX and just ported over to the Genesis. I really hope the creator re-considers releasing the ROM before some hacker dumps it anyway.
Either way, this will be the last physical game I purchase from Kai Magazine – I’ll gladly try another one of theirs if a ROM is available to purchase, but I’m not at all a fan of forcing people to buy a buggy, physical copy.