Caverns of Mars Recharged Review – Mars Down Below

Caverns of Mars Recharged Review

Caverns of Mars: Recharged is the latest classic Atari game to get a visual and gameplay face-lift. You can find the original in the recently reviewed – Atari 50: The Anniversary Collection.
The concept of the original game was a scrolling shooter that went from top to bottom instead of left to right. You descended through the various stages of the destructible Martian subterranean landscape with the goal of surviving and doing as much damage as in little time as possible.

As you descend deeper, the challenges increase. The enemies become harder and the environment more challenging to navigate. Fortunately, power and weapon upgrades are also plentiful. Yet you cannot simply blast your way through everything. Energy and ammunition levels must be monitored and maintained. This brings a strategic element to the game, that has to be managed on the fly, or on the drop.
The original game debuted on the Atari 800 8-bit PC and has the blocky graphics of the era. Caverns of Mars: Recharged gets a digital face-lift, but a restrained one. The blockiness is being smoothed out, yet very much reflects the aesthetics of the original. Weapons fire and explosions receive substantial upgrades with particle effects, yet do not overpower the player’s view.

Simple Yet Deep

The big gameplay difference between the two is with the controls. In the original, you could slow the ship’s descent with the directional pad by pushing up. In this version, directional controls only affect lateral movement. To slow down, you either use weapons fire or as a last resort, bulldoze through rock. The second method is a desperate move because you will rapidly deplete your health.
As you fall, ammo and weapons upgrades are available by navigating over them. Sometimes, they are out in the open and easy to get. Other times they are strategically located and offer a risk/reward proposition where picking one up will have you either crashing into a rock or having to blast your way through. It requires split-second decisions and precision handling, which makes the game challenging.

Original vs Recharged

The same challenge extends to the enemies. Some enemies are ships, some are mines, and others are weapon beams. The mixing and matching of enemy types also make for greater challenges. Beam weapons cut a horizontal swath across the screen. You must either navigate around them or destroy the weapon emitting the beam. Mines have a blast radius, so shooting one within the area means you will suffer some collateral health damage.
Caverns of Mars: Recharged offers up several gameplay modes. The first is an Arcade Mode where the goal is to reach a reactor and set it off. The next mode is a Missions Mode where 30 specially crafted missions to test your skills are available. There is also a unique co-op mode where one player navigates the sinking ship while the other handles the weapons. Also present are the requisite leaderboards for both friends and worldwide.

Two Button Strategy

This is a simple game. There are only two controls – navigation and weapons fire. Yet it is fun to play and surprisingly challenging. The pace of this version of the game is much faster than the original. So you’ll have to make a lot of decisions quickly. There is very much a flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants feel that is thrilling and engaging.

Weapon pickups also provide on-the-fly strategy changes. You can hew an alternative path with the focused railgun shots or leverage the spread of rapid shotgun blasts to destroy multiple enemies.

The sound of the game is worthy of note too. The soundtrack and sound effects work together to heighten the intensity. Weapon’s fire and explosions add an excellent oomph factor to the visceral thrill. Especially satisfying is the crunchiness of the sound effect for destroying the landscape.

You will die a lot. That is part of the gameplay cycle for these types of shooter games. Beating a mission may take you many runs to master. The frustration level is what it is, but at least you can step back and do another run instantaneously. The downtime between runs is nearly minimal.

Atari has done an excellent job with this upgrade of a classic game. If you like the original game and would like to play it with modern gameplay sensibilities, this is right up, or down, your alley.

*** PS5 code provided by the publisher ***

The Good

  • Clean visuals aid with gameplay
  • Many fun weapons and challenges
  • Simple in concept yet has deep gameplay

The Bad

  • No tutorial
  • Short term gameplay cycle
  • Unbalanced challenge