Caverns of Mars: Recharged - Lacking Gravitational Pull
PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, PC
I find there’s two ways you can bring classic games to a modern audience. The first is to present them as they are, warts and all, while the second is to give them a shot in the arm modernising their mechanics for today’s gamers. Atari are no stranger to either, with their Recharged series being their approach for the latter, and just like clockwork we’ve got a new entry with Caverns of Mars: Recharged.
Like the other Recharged games, you’ve got two play modes on offer. Arcade mode is the one you’ll spend the most time with, where you’ll be flying down its endless caverns aiming to rack up as high a score as possible. The Mission mode presents a bite sized challenge, where you’ll be given a single cavern and need to get through it as quickly as possible.
As always, it’s a case of if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it and both of those modes certainly work well enough for me here. I wish I could say the for the gameplay, but that’s sadly not the case. For those who’ve not played the original, Caverns of Mars could be best summed up as Scramble, but turned on its side. I can appreciate the developers doing what they did to differentiate it from the original, but in the process, I can’t help but feel like it’s lost something as a result. I feel it’s best shown by what control you have over your ship. Changing your ship’s position on screen works as you’d expect, but instead of being able to control your height, you’ll find that your descent speed slowly increases over time.
This may sound a recipe for disaster, especially once you’re a few stages in, but you can slow yourself down through use of your ship’s weapons. Despite it being a step back, I still find it an interesting twist, as their use is limited by your fuel supply. Thankfully you’ll be able to top them up by collecting fuel pickups floating about the caverns.
For me, it’s where this Recharged version diverges the most from the original, as your weapons aren’t just for blasting enemies, or slowing your craft down. You’ll find they can also damage the terrain! I am not really a fan of this, as it removes a large part of the original challenge. In the original game, learning how to position your craft was crucial for navigating the caves. But here, if you’re headed for disaster, you can just carve your way through to safety! Which is a shame, as there are some great elements added into the mix. The alternate weapons you can pick up may not be all that original, but they’re great fun to use. Especially the laser beam which not only cuts through scenery like a hot knife through butter, but also brings you to a near-instantaneous stop. I’d also say the same applies to the foes you’ll face. There were more than a few times when I was surprised with the placement of a fighter, or a mine, so being ready to think fast for these encounters is essential to preserve those precious hit-points.
The last little trick of Arcade mode happens once you complete a stage. You’re given an upgrade from a choice of three, and unlike most games which apply this pattern, you do actually need to think about your choice. Whichever upgrade you choose has both positive and negative effects, and you’ll want to have the best choice for your play style.
I love the game’s visual style, with the foreground caves presented in silhouette, and distinctive backgrounds presented in a muted out style which change as you go further and further down. There’s also some nice detailing and lighting applied to both your craft and your foes which helps out identifying them in the heat of the action. Sadly, I ran into quite a few hitches in performance, usually when large chunks of scenery were destroyed, and though I wouldn’t expect this on other platforms, I found it quite jarring on the Switch. Once again though, it’s the soundtrack which stands head and shoulder above the rest of the game. It’s not as laid back as we saw with Gravitar: Recharged, but it gives the right vibes for flying down those caverns, which adds a significant amount to the atmosphere as a result.
After the last few entries in the series, I felt the Recharged series was finally finding its footing as a unique expansion of some of Atari’s older games, but sadly Caverns of Mars: Recharged feels like a step backwards. In its own right, it’s not a bad game at all, but in having to live up to a regarded (if lesser known) game, it falls short by not channeling enough of the original’s spirit and mechanics in its design. If you don’t have that connection to the original game, I think you’ll enjoy it for what it is, but for those of us who appreciated the original? It’s probably going to leave you thinking about what could have been.
Caverns Of Mars: Recharged was reviewed on Nintendo Switch with a code kindly provided by Atari