39 Days To Mars
Review by Rocco Pepe
39 Days To Mars in an indie game that was financed through Kickstarter back in 2014. It bills itself as “A brief Victorian adventure for two players”, which is quite accurate. The game is designed around the fact that it’s meant to be played by a pair, which makes its recent arrival to consoles a good thing.
As the controls are quite simple, there’s a part of me that thinks the game might actually be best played in the Switch’s handheld mode, with each player using one of the connected Joy-Cons. The premise here is that two English gentlemen in the late 1800’s have decided to go visit Mars.
Never mind how they were able to build a spaceship in the first place, because most of the game is spent fixing the various problems the ship runs into on the voyage. Every puzzle requires that the players work together in some way, whether you’re trying to put the pieces of a torn-up map back together or ride a space-bicycle around to harvest fuel from asteroids. That said, the game does also feature a solo-play mode as well, which replaces one of the
gentlemen with a cat.
Player one will still have to do everything themselves, which makes a lot of the puzzles much more frustrating and tedious to complete. Most of them are designed around the use of a cursor for each person, so moving two at once can kind of be like trying to pat your head and rub your belly at the same time. It’s a sub-optimal experience, but the game deliberately bills itself as being cooperative, so it’s not surprising.
Unfortunately, the puzzles themselves tend to fall short, mostly because they feel like mundane chores more than they do a problem with a clever solution. They really are at their best when they force both players to coordinate their efforts, but too many of them just feel like a task that one person could do without trouble, so they just multiplied the issue to make it take longer. We needed more moments like flying through space around the ship to catch jellyfish(?) or harvest fuel and less where you just plug some cords into the wall or connect some pipes (Yes, it’s that puzzle that was in every adventure game ever.
The same one everyone made fun of BioShock for including). The worst puzzles are the ones where the solution requires you to check the ship’s library for the rules, such as a simple Morse code or “gardening etiquette”. It’s not possible to solve the puzzle without checking these sources and yet you’re not allowed to bring the books with you. If you want to double check, you’ll have to abandon the puzzle, which is incredibly tedious. While care was taken to make sure that the puzzles change each time you play, none of them feel memorable or complex enough to justify coming back for another round.
The game could have been brightened up if it had a good sense of style, but it once again falls short. While I don’t mind Steampunk, the simple monochrome artwork feels somewhat lifeless and it can be quite hard to make out what objects are interactive and aren’t, which is critical for a puzzle game. The music and voicework are similarly lifeless, made worse by the fact that there’s almost no story to speak of. I can’t say I ever got the sense of a grand journey from playing this game, which is quite unfortunate.
While I appreciate 39 Days as a solo effort, I still feel like the final product isn’t much better than some of those Flash puzzle games I’d play on the web in the 2000’s. Although even some of those games had a better sense of style and creativity, not to mention that they were free. I can really only recommend this game to people who want to kill a bit of time with a friend by solving some light puzzles, but also don’t have access to the daily crossword.
Final Verdict: 👎