Overall Score 70%
You'd think an astronaut would be more careful. I don't drive to work in the morning without checking I've got enough fuel to get there and back, so it's a little careless of our hero in Mars Miner not to fill up before he left - hence a desperate dash through an asteroid field before plummeting towards the nearest planet; Mars, as you may have guessed from the title. I may be being a little unfair here - the way the ship starts juddering and smoking on the final approach suggests there may be more going on than an empty tank - but if the ship has been forced down by more sinister forces there is no mention of it in the game's story.
Anyone familiar with the old classic Bomberman will be instantly at home with Mars Miner. You're stranded on Mars, moving from one screen to the next by clearing a path through walls, monsters and so forth with a supply of bombs. As you progress you can collect bonuses (nuts and bolts, for some reason) and pickups such as extra bombs, speed-ups and damage intensifiers (increasing the range of your bomb blast). You blow up stuff by planting a bomb and then scarpering round the nearest corner - your bomb blasts are lethal to yourself as well as other occupants of the labyrinthine caverns.
Controls are delightfully simple - four-directional movement and the planting of bombs are the main five keys, though one power-up allows you to cancel bomb blasts with a sixth. There are keys for a second player as well but aside from a "hotseat" map I was unsure how to activate this (there is no manual with the game). There are two game modes: Story mode is the main game, starting by piloting your ship through the asteroids to reach Mars; and for experienced players there is Survival mode, in which nasties constantly enter the screen and you score points for destroying as many as you can.
In keeping with the retro style the main screen is a clear grid with a nice mix of walls and background obstacles. Monsters vary from giant slugs to ants to spiders - some are fast, some are slow, some move randomly, some chase you and avoid your bombs and some spit deadly... stuff at you. Your health is displayed in the bottom right (helpfully fading away when you enter that corner of the screen) as a number representing your remaining armour (protecting you from bomb blasts and contact with monsters) and three lit bars representing your health (which decrease as you get shot by monsters or step on traps). Health can be replenished by pickups and also at medical terminals.
Sound is rather limited. There's a track accompanying the intro screen and there's a range of sound effects in game, including some background noise, but otherwise music is very limited. This is one of the quieter games I've reviewed for Bytten! This lack of background music, coupled with the lack of a manual and the number of grammar and text formatting slips in the game text, left me feeling that the game was not quite finished.
The strongest area of Mars Miner is, I am pleased to say, the playability. Though the keyboard occasionally feels a little sticky (the speed-up also affects your bombs, leading to frantic dashes for cover!) the controls are simple and generally very effective. They can be rearranged and there is even mouse control available if you wish it. There are no "lives" - you set up your profile at the start and play the story through, continuing from the latest level you started whenever you die or quit. You can upload your best scores online if you so wish.
Overall I was rather pleased with Mars Miner, though it is let down by the unfinished feel. A few background tunes would be good and a game manual explaining what everything is could only help - especially if it expands on the story and the game text is tidied up. Two player mode is underused - would it be possible to play head to head online? Yet all this is largely window dressing. Mars Miner is at heart a loving remake of a well known classic and once you get into it you may find it hard to stop.
Keywords: mars miner review, retrostyle games reviews, retrostyle games games, mars miner scores, pc game reviews, indie game reviews, independent gaming.