The year is 5020. Humanity has abandoned Earth long ago, settling on Mars despite the planet’s barren resources and thin atmosphere. Most people think Earth is better left in the past, little more than a relic of humanity’s beginnings. You, on the other hand, believe you have discovered something of value left back on the old deserted planet – the city of Mutropolis, a glittering monolith filled with old-world treasures like jewels and coffee. Long thought to be a myth, you are confident you have found enough evidence to prove that the fabled city is real. Now all that needs to be done is to convince a group of your peers to fund an investigation to find the city. Stepping up to the podium, the words you choose next will determine the fate of your dream expedition.
Created by two-person development team Pirita Studio, Mutropolis: Mars Episodes serves as a prologue to Mutropolis, a point-and-click adventure due out later this year. Playing as a roughly fifteen-minute dialogue tree of choices, this bite-size preview gives a good indication of the kind of style and humour the final game will contain, and offers an intriguing glimpse into a strange far-flung future.
The game begins as the player’s adorable scientist shuffles up to the podium, looking nervously over the crowd. The audience are displayed as a series of dots in the upper left hand corner, which light up green when they like what you say, and turn red when they are less than impressed. Gain the approval of the majority of your audience, and the expedition will be funded.
Impressing the audience is trickier than one might initially expect. The protagonist has plenty of different evidence he can show, but not only must the right evidence be chosen, the way the information is presented will affect the audience’s reaction too. Will people understand the implications of the dove’s unusual diet? Are they more likely to respond to a stirring call to action about the role of the wind in archaeological research, or should the scientist be more matter-of-fact on the subject? Should he present every piece of evidence he has found on the location of Mutropolis, or only the strongest one to avoid information overload? Each choice will shift the audience’s opinion, and it will probably take a few attempts to understand what these future people desire. My first run-though I was purely factual, which impressed a fraction of the crowd, but not nearly enough to get funding. An entirely over-the-top approach was no good either, however, with only one person supporting me at the end. After a few more tries, the right combination of facts and flashy presentation got me over the line.
The questions are randomised each time, and some will sway the crowd more than others, with certain questions upsetting the whole crowd if answered incorrectly. Some harsh punishments made sense – forgetting the name of a colleague is a big gaff, but others seemed a bit excessive, like not getting an exact creation date from analysing a jewel.
I would have liked to see the stress of presenting represented more as well – the incident with mental blanking on a person’s name has absolutely happened to me in the real world, and added tension to what is otherwise a rather calm game. Have all the worst nightmares of performing a presentation included in the randomiser, like dropping notes, the projector malfunctioning, mispronouncing a word and getting called on it, all the sorts of things that make one feel like crawling under a rock. Persevering under tougher conditions would also add more impact to victory. The victory screen could use an overhaul, since at present it only shows whether or not you succeeded at funding your expedition. This would be the perfect spot to play a trailer for the full game. A link for the trailer exists on the main menu, but showing it off more prominently would make sure players who enjoyed the game know that more is to come.
Despite the simple presentation, Mutropolis: Mars Episodes is overflowing with personality. The scientist character is super cute, reminiscent of the style used in Broken Age, and the information displayed on the slides also has an appealing cartoony appearance. I really liked all the reactions from the crowd, with the future people taking great interest in the dangers of exploring a cactus field and the candy-based diet of early humanity. Sound design is minimal, but suits a quiet presentation environment, with crowd shuffling noises, claps and booing.
The dialogue is well-written, but suffers from a few translation errors – ‘survivals’ rather than ‘survivors’, ‘mummy’ when referring to human remains in general, and some incorrect usage of plurals. The game has no issues to the point of confusion, but a run through of the script with a native speaker would be beneficial. Another issue to address is the text colour of the crowd’s comments. The colour of a statement changes depending on the speaker, and a few of the colour choices blended in too much with the stage, making it hard to read. Changing out the orange and brown hues for something different would aid immensely in legibility.
Overall, I liked my time with Mutropolis: Mars Episodes. The strange future depicted in the game intrigued me, and using persuasion skills made for an interesting twist in a dialogue-heavy game. I’m looking forward to seeing the full release of Mutropolis later in the year.
Next week we’ll be taking a look at Magic Mouse, a top-down dungeon crawler set in a fantasy word. The game can be picked up on Steam here. For discussions, visit the OnlySP Discord or you can email me here.