Review by Achilles Heel

"Don't look into the light! But they're... so... beautiful... BOOM!"

I’ve always loved ‘shmups (2D shooters); I can vividly remember playing Aero Fighters in an arcade, begging my parents for more money to play longer. Unfortunately, all I had for the longest time was a PC, N64, and Game Boy, which definitely aren’t great systems for the genre. Once I bought my Dreamcast, however, I kept hearing about Mars Matrix. I’d thought about buying it, but had always had my attention diverted to flashier, 3D game. However, I won a contest for $80 of video game paraphernalia a few weeks ago and decided to get MM as one of the games, since it was only $20. With the rest of the cash I bought three other games. However, I found myself completely ignoring the others! In spite of it having a few very noticeable flaws, I was quickly addicted.

Story: 5/10
Three hundred or so years into the future, Earth is quite an overbearing mother to Mars, it seems. So, Mars decides to rebel. Earth, of course, isn’t quite willing to let Mars go, and sends in troops. Strangely enough, you’re not a rebel, but on Earth’s side! This is quite weird, as almost every game I’ve known has you fighting against the big guy. Anyway, the plot really isn’t very developed, and what little text there is scrolls past far too quickly to read. There’s one thing you have to remember, though: this is a ‘shmup. Story really doesn’t matter when you’re in the midst of dozens of enemies, does it?

Gameplay: 9.8/10
Mars Matrix is, at first glance, your typical overhead 2D shooter. Controlling one of two “Mosquitoes”, blue or red, with different traits (blue is fast but has a thin laser, while red is slow but has a spead cannon). Your mission is, quite simply, to destroy everything in the six lengthy levels. However, it’s not that easy, and this is where MM starts to differ from the rest of the pack. The amount of firepower from enemies is absolutely astounding, and almost unavoidable. However, your ship isn’t just a regular starfighter: it is equipped with the Mosquito (yes, the same name as the ships, strangely enough), a weapon which draws in enemy fire and shoots right back at them, in place of a regular ol’ “super bomb”. If you hold it all the way so that your meter (which refills with time) is completely emptied, all harmful bullets are sucked in and shot back out. This is such an important part of the game that only the very best of the best players will be able to not use it. Also, there is a “Piercing Cannon”, which fires slowly but is more powerful than regular rapid fire. Another innovative feature is EXP cubes dropped from destroyed enemies. Instead of having basic power ups that instantly upgrade you, a certain amount of EXP cubes must be collected to reach the next level, such as 1000. To make your job easier, you can create combos by collecting cubes quickly enough after each other. It’s possible to keep combos going for a whole level if you’re good enough! And you’re sure to need powering up: bosses are your typical over-the-top shooter fare, firing even more bullets than the numerous regular enemies. The depth of the gameplay is astounding; it truly is much more than it first appears to be.

Modes of Play
In addition to the “Arcade Mode”, a straight translation from the arcade, there is a plethora of other modes to keep you busy. “Score Challenge” allows you to, well, challenge the scores on individual levels. “Elite Mode A” is the same basic game, but the enemies are different, as are the formations. “Elite Mode B” is the Arcade Mode, but with the special options bought from the shop. The shop is the most involving of the bunch: converting the points scored in the game modes into money, you can buy options for use in the game, such as differently colored ships, more continues, Score Challenge levels, and “Gallery Mode”. Gallery Mode has many different pictures and drawings of the game for your purchase with that same “money” from the shop.

Control: 6/10
Mars Matrix is possible to play with only one button: rapid pressing fires rapidly, waiting a second or so between pressing fires the Piercing Cannon, and holding down the button allows usage of the Mosquito (the special weapon, not the ship…). It’s possible to designate specific buttons for the rapid fire and Piercing Cannon, but not the Mosquito, unfortunately. This is quite annoying, since holding the button designated for all methods takes a second or two to start up the Mosquito. As MM is an extremely fast-paced game, this’ll end up killing you a few times.

Difficulty: Hard
For someone like me whose first real shooter they’ve owned is MM, it’s going to be hard way to go. The first time, I could barely even pass the first level! However, once I’d earned some points/money and bought extra continues, I was able to get further and further each time; it was never frustrating, since I didn’t expect to excel my first few times. After playing for a few hours, my skill level jumped dramatically. After a few days, I was able to reach the final sixth level! Mars Matrix is a hard game, admittedly, but it’s completely possible to improve your skill level.

Graphics: 4.5/10
I’ll get one thing out of the way: the intro cutscene’s 3D effects are absolutely amazing. Unfortunately, the rest of the game doesn’t share that. The graphics are 2D and look perfectly fine for a shooter of its ilk, but they’re just not good enough compared to the other 2D games on the Dreamcast, such as Street Fighter III: Third Strike. Personally, I think they could have easily been on a Saturn (which isn’t an insult), and they’re just too outdated in this day and age. I don’t mean to sound down on the graphics, as they’re workable, but it just annoys me when they could have been so much better.

Sound/Music: 7.5/10
The sound effects are your usual shooting rat-a-tat-tat; I think they sound soothing, but other people I’ve played MM with get irritated. The music is also typical but nice; it’s techno-bop which perfectly suits MM’s attitude and style, but you can only usually hear it during gameplay if you stop shooting! That’s not a good idea, of course, so the nice music gets left out to dry! Still, though, I see no real viable complaints about the sound.

Value: 9.5/10
Mars Matrix is a very long game, if you feel like buying all of the options available. A few items in the shop will take you many, many hours to attain. Also, the sheer amount of modes is great, and they’re all worthy of playtime. Spending enough time to finally beat the game (if you’re not a shooter veteran) will also take a long while. To put icing on the metaphysical cake, it’s only $20, the price of a new shirt, a large pizza, or a CD. Surely this is more valuable than that?

Your decision on whether or not to buy Mars Matrix depends on one thing: you like old-school games. MM is as old-school as they get (without being a remake), and if you’re one of the “new age” gamers, don’t even bother; you’ll only become frustrated. For the old-school of you, MM is practically a required purchase.

+ Deep gameplay
+ An actual 2D shooter!
+ Excellent value
- Subpar graphics
- Sometimes annoying control
- Lackluster story (but who really cares…?)

Overall Score: 8/10

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 07/13/01, Updated 11/08/01

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