|MSRP: $9.99||Category: 2D Retro Remake|
|Publisher: Atari||Developer: AdamVision|
|Reviewed on: Xbox Series S||Also on: PS4 & 5, Xbox One & Series X, Switch, PC/Steam|
Released Mar 9, 2023
Race through caverns while blasting away enemies and terrain to reach the depths of Mars in this reimagining of the 1981 classic.
Caverns of Mars: Recharged takes the easy, addictive appeal of the original game and adds more caverns, more challenges, more weapons, modern graphics and leaderboards. And it would not be a Recharged title without an amazing new original soundtrack.
In Caverns of Mars: Recharged you descend into tunnels beneath the surface of Mars in a mad dash to destroy the reactor and furthest depths of the enemy’s base. Dodge debris, clear out obstacles, and blast enemies, all while conserving ammunition as you descend at high speed into enemy territory. Your ammo is limited and enemies are plentiful, so make every shot count.
Caverns of Mars Recharged is a complete reimagining of the 1981 original, and while it maintains the basic premise of the game (where you are descending into a cavern, dodging walls and shooting things) it changed some of the core gameplay elements…for the worse.
To fully appreciate the Caverns of Mars remake, you first have to understand a little bit about the game it was based on.
The original Caverns of Mars was one of the first homebrew / indie games for Atari (and possibly for video games period). In 1981, high school senior Greg Christensen bought an Atari 800 home computer and created the game using assembly language (there was no easy mode in 1981) in about a month-and-a-half. He submitted the game to the Atari Program Exchange (APX), which was a division of Atari that encouraged anyone, not just professional developers, to submit video games, educational software, applications, and utilities for its 8-bit line of home computers. If a program was selected, it was added to APX’s quarterly catalog, with credit given to the programmer. APX was generally intended to be a hobbyist resource, but Atari was so taken with the game that they licensed it from Christensen for distribution.
The gameplay for the original game included piloting a craft downwards between the walls of a cavern, shooting structures and fuel deposits along the way, then navigating through waves of enemies, planting a bomb in the lowest part of the cavern, and then quickly navigating back up through the cavern before the time runs out.
The original Caverns of Mars was included in the Atari 50 Celebration, and you can see some gameplay of the original from the Atari 50 Celebration collection below:
The original game, like many Atari games, was simplistic but fun, providing hours of entertainment as gamers tried to pass more and more levels (as you can see, I didn’t make it very far.)
Ok…now that you have some perspective on the original, how does the Recharged version shape up, especially in comparison to the original?
Well…it’s ok, but it could have done a bit more to be a truly good game in its own right.
First of all, the graphics are certainly an improvement on the original, but that is hardly surprising considering it was created by one high-school student, in assembly language, in 1981. Not exactly a huge hurdle to improve upon. And while the Recharged version looks good in its own right, the graphics could have been developed more to take advantage of modern hardware and really create something special. As it stands, the game just looks okay.
Secondly, the audio is also a big improvement, but that was an even lower hurdle than the graphics, as the sound effects in the original game were very basic and slightly annoying. The sound effects in the Recharged version are okay, but nothing special, and while the thumping techno soundtrack is a nice enough addition, it seems disconnected from the game itself, like you could have inserted any decent sounding music and it would have had the same impact. Certainly a better improvement than the graphics, but not by much.
Then there is the gameplay, which is not bad by any means, but like some of the other aspects of the Recharged version, is just okay. The original Caverns was interesting for a lot of reasons, but one reason in particular was its multi-part stages and sense of accomplishment when you finally reached the bottom and successfully navigated out of each stage. However, that is one of the core gameplay elements from the original that the Recharged version has chosen not to include for some reason. What is left is an endless maze of caverns that feels somewhat like a mobile game, with some end of stage power-ups which feel oddly like Vampire Survivors.
You can watch some of my gameplay of Caverns of Mars Recharged below:
Finally, the most important part of any game is the fun factor, because if a game isn’t fun then what’s the point? Well it seems like the overall fun in Caverns of Mars Recharged is destined to be limited at best. If you and a few of your buddies got together and took turns seeing who could get the farthest, and laughing at each others’ miserable failures, I could see it being entertaining for a few hours, but playing solo I can’t imagine playing this for too long at any one time.
FINAL VERDICT AND SCORE
Caverns of Mars Recharged, like the rest of the Recharged series, is laudable for its efforts to call attention to historically important games for modern audiences, and reimagine those games in a way that makes them relevant in the 21st century, but ultimately its efforts fall short of what it could have been.
Caverns of Mars Recharged, in particular, traded key elements of its original gameplay for modern tropes that not only didn’t add anything valuable to the experience, but unfortunately made it worse.
As it stands, even for $9.99, it’s hard to recommend Caverns of Mars Recharged at or ahead of other similarly priced games, and if you’re still interested in picking it up, you may want to wait for it to go on sale, which it is sure to do in the coming months.
- Grooving soundtrack
- Great to see a revival of a relatively unknown but important game
- Streamlined graphics might be a bit too simplistic
- Gameplay seems like more of a step backwards than an evolution
- Seems to have limited fun and enjoyability unless you play with friends