Review by Kane
"Written by a non-shooter fan"
First off, allow me to say this: I am not a big shooter fan. Not in the sense that I do not like the genre, but in the sense that I have not played that many shooters, especially in recent years. I used to like shooters a lot back in the days of the 8 and 16-bit-consoles... Aleste, R-Type, Thunderforce, Pop n' Twin Bee, Parodius... I have great memories of these games for some reason. But I have stopped playing shooters when I got a PlayStation, and I have lost my skills as well! So you probably will not find any in-depth comments or comparisons with other shooters in this review. I do not even have a lot of things to say about this game, but I thought that this would be a bit different from the other reviews that have been posted on the site so far.
I wanted to get this game for a while, actually. I mainly use my DC for fighting games, but, being aware of the fact that it was a very good platform for shooters, I thought ''Why not give it a try?'', remembering the good old days I had on my Genesis. The low price of the game also played an important part in my decision, and I told myself that if I did not like it, it was only twenty bucks. But based on what I had been hearing everywhere, this Capcom game was supposed to be excellent. I will not make you wait any longer, though: I was not disappointed. Even to me, Mars Matrix came out as a pleasant surprise and a nice addition to my library. What is so special in this game? Why do many people consider it as one of the Dreamcast's best shooters? Here is my humble theory on the subject:
I had a hard time deciding how I could grade Mars Matrix in this area. I even changed my mind a few times, to finally give it an average grade. The reason why it was so hard for me is because I think the game looks poor and beautiful at the same time. I will try to explain.
The game is in 2d, with ''old-school'' graphics: it is colorful and even has some nice pastel colors. The levels are rather varied and do not look repetitive, despite the fact that they all take place around Mars. The backgrounds are detailed and well designed, and the same thing could be said of the enemies. They appear on screen by many different ways, and very often by great number: the ''animation'' is very impressive as well, since they can be so many bullets on the screen and the game does not seem to slow down too much (except when using the Gravity Hole Bomb), at least to my knowledge. The speed of the game is reasonably fast and you can even change the speed of your ship in the Special Options menu, but you will have to unlock it first...
The general presentation of the game is very good and puts you in the mood to fight... It looks very futuristic but still realistic, which is a good thing. There is nothing I dislike more than games that try too hard to look cool. Mars Matrix looks good in a ''classy'' way, in my opinion. The opening movie of the game looks very cool, too: it made me think of a 3d version of the Japanese anime Macross Plus. All these elements made me want to give Mars Matrix an excellent game in this department, because it means something special to me: when I play it, I am reminded of these shooters I used to play a long time ago, and of the time when there were only 2d games. I do not have anything against 3d, but nostalgia is an important factor when reviewing a game, I think.
To make it short, Mars Matrix looks beautiful in some sense: it is like a nice painting. It does not really use any impressive special effects or graphics style, but everything looks nice, especially if you take a step behind and look at the ''whole picture''... The reason why I lowered the grade is because it will not please everyone. The ''new'' breed of gamers raised on 3d games and cut-scenes will probably not see anything special in this game. It does not really take full advantage of the Dreamcast's awesome 2d capacities, so I cannot give it a very good grade just because I personally see something in it that other might not see. You should now understand why this 6 is not really a 6 for me.
Well, I am not a shooter fan, but the gameplay seems almost perfect to me! It is very simple, even simplistic for people who are not used to the genre. But then again, is that a bad thing? As long as the fun is here, it does not matter, right? I think Mars Matrix totally delivers in this area, and this is actually the aspect of the game I was the most impressed with.
What makes this game a bit different from the shooters I have played before is that you do not need to avoid enemies, just the bullets. It takes a little while to get used to, but it gives a new dimension to the game: after some time, you will mainly see 2 things on the screen: your ships, and the bullets. Of course, you need to shoot the enemies, but it looks like the game is mainly about avoiding the bullets, which is why Mars Matrix can be so rewarding.
It is a 2-player game, and why I have not fully explored the possibilities offered by this option yet, it is extremely fun. I think that every shooter should have a 2-player mode if the platform makes it possible. But even for one player, the game is challenging enough to keep you playing. You choose your ship out of two (which have different stats and regular weapons) and then the game starts. You can make your ship evolve by collecting experience cubes obtained when you kill enemies. Of course, a level 8 fighter will be much better than a regular fighter... The two ships can use the Piercing Cannon, which is an alternative weapon which is very powerful in close range. I usually use it a lot. But the real key to get better to this game is the Absorption Barrier Mosquito: if you press and hold the A button, a barrier will surround you fighter and will absorb and then discharge all incoming bullets. Your use of this feature is obviously limited. You can also use the Gravity Hole Bomb, which is a very powerful bomb that hits on a large part of the screen. It is better to use it when you are close to a boss, for instance. These features prevent the gameplay from becoming too repetitive, in my opinion.
The bosses are well designed and impressive, despite not being very original, at least the first ones. One thing I really liked was the timer that shows up at the beginning of a boss fight. When the timer ends, the boss retreats... This probably will not happen very often on regular difficulty settings but it is a very cool addition, I think. No more ''invincible'' bosses who take 20 minutes to beat, yay!
It seems to me that this game has regular features for a shooter, but I could be wrong. However, something kept me playing and trying to get better... Something I cannot point out at the moment. This game, as most shooters -if not all- takes skill. You will need a lot of concentration to attain very good scores, and you will probably end up in a special state in which you see bullets everywhere.
What can I say? I am surprised. I usually dislike electronic music a lot, but I like the music in Mars Matrix. I cannot really explain why... First, it really fits the overall feel of the game. The beats are catchy and make you feel more nervous. But I also liked the fact that the tunes were not too loud or annoying. They are repetitive in some way, but that did not really bother me. I was too stressed to think about it anyway.
I know what you are thinking, you could care less about what the story of a shooter is, right? I agree to an extent... But then again there is a story, so why not take a look at it? As the title seems to indicate, the game takes place on Mars. Actually we are in 2309, Mars just declared its independence after being treated as a colony for half a decade. But as you can imagine, things are not that simple: you are engaged in the army to find out what is going on on the red planet. There is nothing new here, I agree. But I liked the fact that the conflict does not start with an alien invasion, for instance. Here, the actors of the fight are humans, which makes it even more epic.
Mars Matrix has more ''replay value'' than your usual shooter... If you are anything like me, you will just be playing it for some time anyway, since it is challenging but still not discouraging (for me anyway). I think this game has something special which makes me want to play it over and over just to beat my high-score, and that is quite rare since I usually get bored of games pretty fast. But in case you need a few extras to keep you interested, don't worry, they are here. There is an Elite Mode, which is a variation of the original Arcade Mode with new features added. This is in case you learn the game by heart. There are Score Challenge and Ranking Modes, of course. You can customize the game in the Options menu, but you will need to unlock the Special Options menu to unlock some of them (you cannot abuse infinite continues which is a good thing). The more you play, the more money you earn, and then you can get new secrets in the shop mode. You can unlock a ''Strategy Mode'' for each stage which shows you the best way to finish them, and you can buy nice artworks in the Gallery Mode. This should keep you playing for some time at least, since it takes a while to unlock everything. I was worried by the replay value at first, because I had not played a shooter in a while. But there is really no reason to be worried actually.
buy or rent?
To conclude, I guess you might say that I enjoyed Mars Matrix a lot. While you might be thinking that a 7 is only an average grade, keep in mind that it is a good grade for certain reviewers, including me. I realize that this game might not be loved by everyone, but as a non-shooter fan, I really liked it, and I hope this can convince other people who are considering getting it to run to their local game store and get a copy as soon as possible, especially for 20 dollars. If you like shooters, then you cannot pass on this one, I think. If you usually do not like this genre, why not try renting the game before? You might a pleasantly surprised, as I was. If more people gave shooters another chance, the genre would still be flourishing today, and we would probably see more of them out there. The last thing I have to say is thank you Capcom for bringing this game to the US, even though you guys know it will not sell extremely well. Great job: you just renewed my faith in shooters.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 07/03/01, Updated 02/02/03
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