In a surprising turn of events, Lucas Pope, the acclaimed indie developer behind games like Papers, Please and Return of the Obra Dinn, is making a comeback on Panic’s Playdate handheld console with his latest game, Mars After Midnight. Initially skeptical of the Playdate’s appeal, I had the opportunity to play this bite-sized title at PAX West and was pleasantly surprised what I experienced.
Mars After Midnight can be seen as a spiritual sequel to Papers, Please, although this time Pope has crafted a game that is more accessible compared to his previous works. The game takes advantage of the Playdate’s 1-bit black-and-white screen to deliver stunning visuals. Playing as a doorman in an alien colony on Mars, my task was to determine which aliens met the criteria to enter a Cyclops Anger Management session.
The gameplay revolves around two primary screens. The first screen provides directions to only allow aliens with one eye and a sad face to enter. Using the Playdate’s crank, I had to carefully inspect the aliens to ensure they met these criteria. However, there were instances where I had to second-guess myself, as some aliens had one eye but multiple irises, which disqualified them from entry.
Once an alien was allowed inside, they would proceed to a dessert table to grab a piece of pie before heading to their session. This is where the second part of the gameplay comes into play. As an alien with multiple tentacles, I had to juggle holding all the items in my hands while using a “SOUP-A SWEEP-A” tool to clean the table. I then had to rearrange the plates, pie, slicer, and dessert sign back to their original positions. The sense of urgency increased as more aliens knocked on the door, demanding my attention.
Although I only experienced a single shift during the demo, I caught a glimpse of the in-between moments. On a level select screen, I could choose the event to work as a doorman, allocate funds for promotion, and select the dessert to serve. While I couldn’t explore the impact of these choices on gameplay, it has certainly piqued my interest in how they will contribute to the overall experience when Mars After Midnight is released.
What I played was simple yet compelling, with no overwhelming complexity. The increasing requirements and fun chaos found in Papers, Please carry into Mars After Midnight. It is clear that the Playdate provides a unique platform for these charming and integrated experiences. The Playdate’s limitations, such as its lack of a backlit screen and its small size and crank, are no longer deal-breakers for me. If anything, Mars After Midnight has convinced me that the Playdate has a bright future ahead.
Title: Mars After Midnight: Lucas Pope’s Return to the Playdate
Source: Previous knowledge
Definitions: Playdate – a handheld gaming console developed Panic; Lucas Pope – an indie game developer known for Papers, Please and Return of the Obra Dinn; Papers, Please – a game that addresses real-world immigration struggles with gameplay; Return of the Obra Dinn – a narrative and puzzle-solving game set on an abandoned ship; PAX West – a gaming convention where Mars After Midnight was demoed.