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Video Game / Waking Mars

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The Red Planet just got a whole lot less dead.

"The red planet was silent as I thought my way through my problem. No battle robots attacked me."
Robert Florence, Rock Paper Shotgun, describing this game

Waking Mars is a Puzzle Platformer for iOS, Android, PC and Linux systems released in 2012 by Tiger Style Games.

You play a scientist/astronaut named Liang, part of a research team based on Mars. You are tasked with researching Martian life forms discovered in a cave a year previously. 0CT0, the mobile probe that made the original discovery, is now missing, presumably deeper down. It's not long before you discover your path blocked by biological barriers seemingly grown in place. To open them, you'll need to plant seeds of the resident plantlike life, called Zoa, in suitable patches of soil to grow new specimens. Growing Zoa increases the amount of organic life in cave, called Biomass, causing the barriers to open to other parts of the cavern. Sounds easy, right? But this can't be done by simply throwing whatever at wherever. You must utilize the unique interactions between the various species of Zoa in order to optimize and balance the ecosystem while maximizing biomass. As Liang delves deeper into the caves, it becomes evident that there is something much bigger than some alien plants sleeping beneath the surface.

Official site at Tiger Style Games
Available at Apple's App Store, Google Play, and Steam.

Waking Mars provides examples of:

  • Alien Kudzu: The acid Cephad Zoa. It eventually takes over any environment it's planted in, converting the fertile soil to an acid type so nothing else can grow.
  • All There in the Manual: You have access to a research log concerning the life forms you encounter. The information becomes more detailed and more useful as you complete "research opportunities".
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: Pretty much every living thing you find on Mars has some form of this.
  • Black and Nerdy: Amani. She occasionally drifts into Technobabble in her conversations with Liang, who politely says "Yes" whenever she does so.
  • Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": Both Liang and Amani refer to most of the life forms you interact with as plants and seeds. ART constantly argues the point that the Martian life forms are not plants, and gives everything grandiose Canis Latinicus names instead.
  • Cheerful A.I.: ART is an endless source of cheerful information. Although his linguistic subroutine is downgraded as a prank, the AI is genuinely upbeat about the mission and happy to put its considerable deductive capabilities to good use.
  • Cool Starship: Not only is the Sentients' starship the size of Lethe Cavern (i.e. the entire playable area of the game), it's also made of quartz.
  • Convection, Schmonvection: Possibly justified by Liang's spacesuit, but the magma in the depths of the cavern doesn't damage him unless he touches it. It doesn't damage Zoa near it either, which is to be expected from a species of pseudo-plants hardy enough to remain in stasis for literal billions of years.
  • Death Is a Slap on the Wrist: If you die the game simply restarts you with full health at the beginning of the level.
  • Difficulty Levels: Casual, Normal, and Hard.
  • Dying Race: The Sentients are very much this, having been forced to enter stasis underneath the Martian surface due to some cataclysm that turned Mars into the red rock that it is today.
  • Engrish: ART's annoying voice and roundabout manner of speech is the result of a prank played on the mission before launch. Someone took ART's more modern linguistic subroutine and replaced it with its counterpart from the 2040's, fifty years before the present time.
    ART: Thank you! I am very abilities for human dialog!
  • Event Flag: When you've raised enough power for the Low Power ending, the Core will shoot a bright light into space, signaling that you've reached the endgame. Once that happens, you can no longer chat with Amani by standing on one of the quartz peaks, because the light is strong enough to push you out of the way.
  • Feed It a Bomb: The only way to destroy a Larian is to feed it an explosive Feran seed.
  • Festering Fungus: The two type of Cephad Spore combined can wipe out any other plantable Zoa...including each other.
  • Genre-Busting: It's a Puzzle Platformer (already a genre combination) with God Game-like gameplay with the structure of a Metroidvania.
  • Healing Herb: Standing next to a fertile Halid Zoa heals you up if you're injured. It will also, somehow, repair your spacesuit.
  • Hollywood Acid: Averted by the acidic fertile ground, which simply has different compounds in it allowing it to support different Zoa. Played straight with the acid pools and falling slime, however.
  • Instructive Level Design: While the first level you enter includes a brief tutorial to teach you how to use your jetpack and plant Zoa, the rest of the things you'll need to know how to do come from attempting different research opportunities to fill in blank research log entries.
  • Jump Jet Pack: You start the game off with a basic style Jump Jet Pack, the BCS-X1, which allows you to fly through the caves at need. Two other models become available if you fulfill certain conditions. To get the ATS-X2, a Jump Jet Pack that's very fast, you must return to Base Camp.To get the ELS-X3, a true Jet Pack that allows you to hover, you must find 0CT0.
  • Mission Control: Amani, Liang's partner, and ART.
  • Multiple Endings: The Sentients need you to make a decision for them. To be able to carry out your choice you must raise Core Power high enough for the Sentients' machinery to fully function. Then:
    • Low Power ending: You choose for the Sentients to completely revive Mars, by standing next to the right-hand sculpture. After the cutscene you rejoin Amani at Base Camp. Turns into a Bitter Sweet Ending if you choose this option after learning from 0CT0 that the magma that keeps their ecology working will run out in a few months.
    • High Power ending (stay): You choose for the Sentients to activate their starship and leave Mars behind, by standing next to the left-hand sculpture. Once the ship starts up, you choose to stay with the Sentients, by standing on the platform next to them after the cutscene to enter stasis, while Amani sadly tells you goodbye.
    • High Power ending (leave): You choose for the Sentients to activate their starship and leave Mars behind, by standing next to the left-hand sculpture. Once the ship starts up, you must leave the Helm immediately. After the cutscene you rejoin Amani at Base Camp.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Despite 0CT0's pleasant demeanor and sophisticated avatar, contrasted with ART's Captain Obvious tendencies and malfunctioning grammar, the former freely admits that the latter is his intellectual superior "by several orders of magnitude." This makes sense, as 0CT0 is a relatively simple probe and ART is the core AI for the entire mission.
  • Plant Aliens: Not technically, but the Zoa are quite similar to plants.
  • Starfish Aliens: Later on in the game you discover a race of ancient Martian beings simply called the 'Sentients'. You wouldn't recognize them as being intelligent if you weren't looking for it. They resemble floating tangles of red strings.
  • Starfish Language: The Sentients' language sounds like white noise to human ears. It can only be interpreted using Amani's visualizer, which translates it into a simple image.
  • Take Your Time: If you discover sentient life, they will convey extremely urgent-seeming requests to you, ultimately requesting that you make a choice for them. Since the designers didn't want to make this a Point of No Return, you can walk out of the room and explore the rest of the caves, even though this makes no logical sense. You can even make your way all the way back to the base camp and chat with your partner, Amani, who will marvel at how you discovered intelligent life, adding 'Then you just left them in there. That was kind of weird of you. Hope they didn't need anything important.'
  • Voice with an Internet Connection: Amani and ART again.

Now get back into that cave!