Skep's Place


Mars After Midnight

by Lucas Pope | get it here

Despite rarely touching my Playdate, I always read the emails they send highlighting some games they've added to their catalog. That's what led me to Mars After Midnight, which—they were proud to announce—was developed by Lucas Pope, the creator behind Papers, Please and Return of the Obra Dinn. Now I quite liked Obra Dinn, and Papers, Please is a game that... I've heard enough about to both respect it and recognize that I never want to play it. So I figured this would be a good time to dust off my Playdate and see what Pope was up to now.

The setup is straightforward: you play a martian (on Mars!) who runs support group events for other martians. These events cater to specific interests or traits; for example, one night you are running a mixer for excessively flatulent aliens, while the next, you are hosting knife fighting for gnats. Of course, space is limited, so you can't just let anybody in; they need to meet the qualifications for whichever event you're running, which means you need to vet them at the door. This is akin to the "do they meet the requirements" gameplay of Papers, Please, but far more simplified; there is a single qualification for each event, and there's never any guesswork or judgement calls. Once you administer your test, you'll know if they belong or not.

The fun bit here is that you get to feel like a bouncer. Your door has one of those little rectangle flaps at eye level, and you flip the crank up and down to mimic the opening and closing of the peephole. It's not a groundbreaking use of the crank, but it's more satisfying than pressing a button.

After you admit a martian, they may partake in the refreshments you're providing. When they do, they very often leave everything impossibly messy. The stack of plates gets scattered to three places, one of which is directly on top of the pie, and on top of THAT is the sign highlighting the pie that was just sitting at the edge of the table minding its own business. You need to put this jumble back in order or the next guest won't take any snacks (meaning you won't get a tip), but because cleaning also involves sweeping away all the crumbs, you need to first reorganize everything so that you can hold it in two hands/tentacles, run the automatic sweeper, and then set everything back. This is incredibly tedious, and you will be doing it often.

Occasionally the guests will be nice and not make any mess. I found that this would occur twice per six-martian event, but 80% of the time one of those two would be the last guest, which already has a much simpler clean-up procedure, so it doesn't save you any time. Ah well.

And that's how most of the gameplay goes. Overall it's very simple and a bit repetitive, which some could find underwhelming. In the credits, though, Pope dedicates the game to his kids, so perhaps he developed it with them in mind. If I was still a kid, I think the variety and creativity in all the martian designs would be a lot of fun by itself, and a lot of the screening methods are fairly silly in their own way. So perhaps I'm not in the target demographic, but it was still a cute game regardless.

Verdict: Re-Mars-kable (really Skep, you sat here for ten minutes and that's the best you could come up with???)