Video games set in the deep-sea depths are nothing new. From the underwater levels of classic Super Mario Bros to the aquatic survival in Subnautica, the mystery and beauty of the ocean keeps inspiring developers. Tigertron has combined this fascination with a strong environmental message to create Jupiter & Mars.
Jupiter & Mars stars the eponymous dolphins living in the far future. Jupiter acts as the player-controlled character, while Mars is AI-controlled (though will respond to direct player commands). The mission of this pair is to explore the oceans of a future Earth that has been abandoned by humanity to return peace to the seas and foster harmonious aquatic life.
The details of what happened to Earth and humankind are left intentionally vague, but, as the player progresses, remnants of humanity linger—from the pollution scattered around, trapping friendly sea creatures, to dangerous technology causing problems for sea life, to entire cities swallowed beneath the rising seas. The environmental message is obvious, and, though it is certainly a relevant and timely one, this underpinning theme can feel brutally unsubtle at times.
The majority of gameplay is spent exploring the expansive ocean environments, using echolocation to find new areas or objects that Mars can be sent to retrieve or destroy. A pulse can also be used to deter dangerous jellyfish, as well as freeing trapped sea creatures.
Each area is large enough to provide a true sense of scale, with various collectables available to find, machines that need to be shut down, or underwater wildlife to be rescued. The environments themselves look very appealing, with the player-characters, along other sea life, sporting a vivid colour palette and neon patterns that diversify the game’s aesthetics. However, despite the beauty of the areas, they still feel quite empty. While the desolation could be indicative of pollution damage to wildlife, the uninhabited ocean feels more like a development oversight than a design choice.
VR considerably enhances the experience of playing Jupiter & Mars. When engaging using a PlayStation VR headset, the world feels less empty, since the world and the inhabitants feel closer, and the immediacy of VR helps.
Several control options are available in VR mode, a snap-turn or smooth-turn using the DualShock controller analogue stick or a smooth-turn controlled by tilting the headset from side to side. The head-tilt control is by far the most immersive, but some users may find it triggers motion sickness symptoms. The snap-turn option is likely better for those who experience simulation sickness from VR and has the added advantage of providing a tighter turning circle.
Where Jupiter & Mars really stands out is the soundtrack. The music is excellent, providing a smooth, calming addition to the aquatic world with some excellent chill-out electronica, which is reminiscent of the soundtrack from Ecco the Dolphin: Tides of Time on the SEGA Mega CD. Considering that developer Tigertron also created Child of Eden, another title praised for the quality of its music, this level of excellence is not surprising.
Comparisons to Ecco the Dolphin are hard to avoid, and, although Jupiter & Mars has captured the vast, mysterious loneliness of the ocean in a similar way to this classic title, the game has failed to recreate how immersive the Ecco the Dolphin games truly were. Perhaps these deficiencies exist because Mars is the one who performs most of the physical actions or stem from the missing sense of significant danger. Something seems to be severely lacking in Jupiter & Mars when compared to its spiritual predecessor.
The themes of Jupiter & Mars lean heavily on environmentalism, adding just a tinge of science fiction in its far-future setting while eschewing the overtly cyberpunk elements of Ecco the Dolphin. These aesthetic choices are, perhaps, to the game’s detriment, as the endless exploration and lack of imminent threat can make the entire journey feel somewhat boring.
Jupiter & Mars is a calming experience overall. In small doses, the title could be a great antidote to a stressful day, particularly if played in VR. However, the game’s short length and lack of threat makes it too dull for long-term or repeat play. The soundtrack is the project’s major stand-out element, and the OST album would be worth buying on its own—if and when it ever becomes available.
Reviewed on PlayStation VR.