Cons: And lots of things fire back at you, in waves
The Bottom Line: Epilogue: I have beaten Mars Matrix since this review was first published. Turns out you're actually fighting for Earth.
Another one of my preserved Netjak yada yada yada. This one was published first in 2004 or 2005, as you'll probably gather from my reference to George W. Bush.
One of my all-time favorite clichés in video gaming is the ever-popular “single-spacecraft armada” cliche: whenever aliens invade the Earth, the sole hope of the planet rests on one single ship which contains more firepower than the entire invading fleet put together.
Our single-ship armada in Mars Matrix comes courtesy of the defenders of Earth or perhaps the defenders of Mars. I’ll be honest right here: I have absolutely no idea which side you’re supposed to be representing in this little interplanetary independence scuffle. All I know is what I read in the manual: George W. Bush’s space aspirations finally yielded results around a half-century ago, and Mars is now a colony of Earth. But Earth is apparently being a bit too bossy, so one day the Martians pull a Thomas Jefferson and say “We don’t want you telling us what to do anymore. Please go away.” The story outline ends with Earth sending a fleet to Mars and the two sides clashing in a war for Martian independence. It’s not exactly made clear which side of the conflict you’re fighting for.
Once the game begins, however, it won’t really matter. That’s because in Mars Matrix, the “single-spacecraft armada” cliche takes a backseat to some of the biggest, meanest, most resilient, and most ridiculously over-armed war spacecraft you’ve ever seen. Mars Matrix is a rare shooter in which you won’t get killed for coming into contact with the enemies themselves. This is very nonsensical, but against the tidal wave of bullets you’ll be facing, you quickly realize this advantage wasn’t nearly advantageous enough. The idea of every shooting game is to shoot bad guys while dodging and weaving around their return fire, but in Mars Matrix, enemies often flood the screen with so many shots that dodging and weaving are next to impossible.
Tough? Oh yeah. Continues in Mars Matrix are not so much a luxury for the less sure-handed as they are a necessity. Fortunately, you salvation comes in a weapon called the Gravity Hole Bomb, a cool little device which sucks up enemy firepower (yes, making you invincible for several seconds while you vacuum up the laser beams) and spits it right back out at them! And the best part is, it’s an unlimited-use weapon! Don’t expect to just clean up with it, though: Nice as this Big Friggin’ Gun is, you STILL have to wait for the little meter on the bottom of the screen to charge it up between uses.
The Gravity Hole Bomb isn’t the only feature of what’s actually a very innovative weapon system. Usually, the weapon system is what drags people back to shooters time and time again (along with the no-brain mentality and insane difficulty). In most shooters, you get a big bundle of power-up weapons. Now, guess how many you get in Mars Matrix: A whopping THREE! Doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but to make up for it, Capcom allows you to collect “Experience Cubes” which level up your primary weapon, like a character in an RPG levels up. Your primary weapon depends on which of the two ships you use: The Mosquito 01 uses a Wideblaster, which has a wide shot as the name implies. But it’s also the weaker and slower of the two spacefighters. The quicker and more powerful Mosquito 02 comes with a Laser Shot. But laser beams consist of concentrated light, so you don’t get a whole lot of spread with it. Both ships come with a Piercing Cannon, a nice, powerful mid-range laser which damages depending on how close you are to an enemy when you use it. Both ships also get the Gravity Hole Bomb, of course.
The two available spacecraft in Mars Matrix move at different speeds - the Mosquito 01 moves noticeably slower than the Mosquito 02. When you select your ship, you’re selecting your choice of speed above all else. Both ships fly like they’re supposed to, but the selection deserves a special mention in the gameplay section because of the difficulty. People often choose the faster ships in shooting games because they make weaving easier, but since you can barely move in Mars Matrix, the slower Mosquito 01 will be the preferred choice of a lot of players. No one wants to move so fast that they run into another bullet while trying to dodge one. Other than that, again, everything works like it’s supposed to, which is good for such a hard game.
Capcom threw a lot of replay value into Mars Matrix by including two different versions of the game. You get the standard arcade mode, plus two different elite modes; one has no discernible difference between itself and the arcade mode, but the other includes a number of different enemies, doing different things. When you play Mars Matrix, you accumulate money, which allows you to go to a shop in the options screen and buy some nice new options to spice up your game a little. (Word of advice? Get five lives and six continues first, ‘cause you won’t make it very far on the default three lives and three continues.)
Did Capcom make this game for the Dreamcast? Looking at the lousy graphics, you’d never be able to tell. The graphics look so primitive, in fact, you could probably pass Mars Matrix off as a first-generation Genesis game. I’ll give Capcom credit for the nice rendering of the scenery, but details are nowhere to be found. The backgrounds don’t have nearly as much color as they could, and they look two-dimensional and fuzzy. It won’t matter because you’ll only be seeing bullets most of the time anyway, but this is still a terrible graphic effort for the Dreamcast, which is capable of so much more than this.
The sounds don’t fare a whole lot better. Part of the problem is that there really isn’t a whole lot to say. It’s a shooting game! You weren’t expecting an Academy Award-winning score, were you? Well, in a department that is often overlooked in shooting games, the audio in Mars Matrix is horribly overlooked. The music is mostly predictable, but it doesn’t matter because it’s also tiny-sounding and barely there. And laser shots and explosions pretty much round out the sound.
Mars Matrix may be REALLY FREAKING HARD, but it’s still a lot of fun. The alternate mode and the shop options will just keep on drawing you back. But if you can ignore the insane difficulty, you won’t regret purchasing a two-dimensional shooter for the Dreamcast. Mars Matrix is a final breath of fresh air for two dying breeds - Dreamcast games and two-dimensional shooting games.
What did you think of this review?
Fun to Read
About the reviewer
Nicholas Croston (BaronSamedi3)
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial. Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
Consider the Source
Use Trust Points to see how much you can rely on this review.
The Battle for the Red Planet Half a century has passed since the colonization of Mars and life on the red planet is productive and peaceful. Earth has placed the Mars Development Agency (MDA) in control of Mars' self-governing sectors, yet retains a tight grip on its colony. Without warning, an ominous transmission is received on Earth declaring Martian independence and now all contact with Mars is lost. Now, the threat of war with Mars has Earth seeing red. Massive fleets of experimental, yet very powerful new fighters are on their way to Mars on a mission that could escalate into inter-planetary war.