Jupiter & Mars is a game with a conscience. SeaLegacy and The Ocean Foundation are involved. We get to connect with other creatures through two dolphins we come to care about throughout the adventure. All of this takes place in a world that is stunning. There are hints of realism and the abstract mixed together to create a world that is not only alive, but electrifying. We have a chance to save it and make life for its inhabitants better. Most importantly, it is done in a way that encourages people to constantly explore.
There’s a sense of growth in Jupiter & Mars. As in Metroidvania games, our dolphin duo gets stronger as they reach different areas and destroy the technology left behind by surfacewalkers that are still making life difficult for the aquatic life still enjoy life underwater. As you aid other fish and animals, then meet with elders, the two become stronger. They might be able to dive deeper or swim through currents that blocked their way. It’s a way of encouraging people to keep exploring more and seeing what else might have survived and found its way underwater. Will you see remains of a city, complete with streetlights and cars? Could you see the Statue of Liberty? The more time you invest, the stronger you get and more likely you are to make these discoveries.
Which can be a delight. Jupiter & Mars is a gorgeous game. It offers a stylized approach to underwater life. While all the creatures you see and environments seem accurate enough, there are fantastic elements. Things glow, even before you use echolocation to light up the dark. Dolphins and whales have what are essentially glowing tattoos over parts or all of their bodies. Crabs seem a lot friendlier looking than they do in real life. There isn’t as much seaweed around, obscuring your views. There is so much to take in here, and people get to see things come to life. Calling it an underwater light show or ballet wouldn’t be too far off. Since most of the quests involve getting to a certain place, finding a specific amount of certain creatures or guiding people and there are collectibles to find by having Mars smash into things, there are plenty of excuses to head into every nook and cranny.
I just wish there was a better way to track things in Jupiter & Mars. There is no traditional map where you can highlight objectives. There is a circle in front of you with a glowing light in the direction you should go and a dolphin indicator showing where Mars is. It is difficult to tell elevation with this mechanic, since there are various depths to the undersea areas. It is also impossible to change the objective you are headed toward. Early on, this isn’t too trying. The first area, Sunpool, is well-lit, so it isn’t too bad when you are looking for five missing turtles or saving four manta rays from sludge.
But eventually, you find your way into darker, deeper biomes. Once you reach a point where you need to help a mother whale reunite with her calf, things can get more frustrating. Jupiter & Mars can look gorgeous, especially when you use echolocation to light up the world, but, it can also be very trying to constantly keep pressing the button to trigger the radar to help you find things. Especially since you can’t update your “map” to set a different target. Finding the missing animals you need or herding creatures toward the proper area comes down to trial and error, scouring every inch of an area to try and find the one spot that you missed. Yes, it forces you to look around and see everything, but people might not always get to appreciate what they are looking at.
Jupiter & Mars is a very pretty game. It definitely tries to evoke memories of games like Ecco the Dolphin, where you explore underwater and find new places. It even has some Metroidvania elements, since you gradually get the skills necessary to dive to deeper depths or swim against strong currents. The thing is, a lot of the quests involve finding a specific number of certain creatures. Given how dense and packed some of the biomes can be, this would be difficult in a game where everything is constantly clear and well-lit. Here, things are more obfuscated. People may find themselves getting frustrated by finding things and not always having the chance to appreciate what’s around them.
Jupiter & Mars is available for the PlayStation 4. It is PlayStation VR compatible.