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Tiger Style Games' debut release, Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor, was one of the first truly original App Store standouts, letting you command an arachnid by flicking it around stages, all the while unraveling a mystery as you spun webs and captured flies. The studio's next big release looks to make a similarly distinct impression on the iPhone and iPad, this time by blending familiar play elements in a very different way with a game that features side-scrolling exploration -- and gardening.
Expected to launch this fall, Lost Mars looks very similar to the 2D, side-scrolling adventures of the beloved Metroid and Castlevania series, albeit with your hero sporting a jetpack. But instead of shooting or otherwise attacking enemies in the rocky caves of Mars, you'll instead explore the environments and plant seeds to revive the ecosystem and progress further through the campaign.
I had a chance to try out the game at the Fantastic Arcade portion of Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas over the weekend -- as well as take in a directors' commentary panel from developers Randy Smith and David Kalina -- and it's clear that Tiger Style is trying to find a happy medium between the more invested play experiences associated with console and PC/Mac titles while holding onto a user-friendly touch interface that doesn't rely on virtual joysticks. Lost Mars began life as an earthbound cave-exploration game, but when the idea to take the concept into space emerged, the title really found its footing as a science fiction tale that blends active movement and gardening mechanics.
Your protagonist moves fairly effortlessly though the caves of Mars simply by tapping the screen for quick bursts, or holding your finger down for sustained movement in that direction; and from the bit that I played, the core approach is based around collecting different types of alien seeds called "cerobranes," and using them to populate the ecosystem in each area. Doing so pops open a barrier to the next area, which gives you an opportunity to delve further below the surface, with a Metroid-like world map revealing a large setting to discover throughout the adventure.
While the core action/gardening approach seems fairly simple -- though you can also research items and distract enemies with plants -- Smith said there's a lot of "optional deep science nerdery" for players to immerse themselves in, plus the narrative presentation includes cut-scenes and text exchanges between the player, a far-off handler, and a robot (or computer). While placeholder images grabbed from the Internet are currently being used for those text-based story moments, the actual in-game visuals are already impressive, and the subtle electronic background music really helps set a cryptic tone for the journey.
According to Kalina, Tiger Style is still deciding whether Lost Mars will utilize a universal iOS release or, like Spider before it, separate iPad and iPhone versions. One possible consideration is to release the iPad version first, since the larger screen and newer tech on both tablets offer the best-optimized experience -- thus giving them more time to tinker with an iPhone version for older devices -- but nothing's been finalized. But despite the mention of gardening, this is no free-to-play affair, and it's certainly nothing like Farmville. And whatever the final asking price, Lost Mars seems like it will deliver both the production values and lasting experience to justify the investment.