As video games continue to mature as a narrative form, the medium has allowed a growing number of developers to explore issues that wouldn't typically be confronted in a game, whether it be the plight of refugees trying to cross a border as in Papers, Please, or the pain of losing a loved one to an incurable illness as in That Dragon, Cancer. Jupiter & Mars, a new PSVR-compatible game coming to PS4 later this year, tackles the growing issues of climate change and mankind's impact on the environment, and it wraps its message up in a beautiful and surreal undersea adventure that calls to mind Sega's classic Ecco the Dolphin series.
Jupiter & Mars is the debut effort of Tigertron, an independent studio founded by former game journalists James Mielke and Sam Kennedy. According to Mielke, the idea for the game first began to germinate after the release of The Cove, a 2009 documentary about dolphin hunting. Mielke was working at Q Entertainment (Lumines, Child of Eden) at the time and was deeply affected by the film. "I started to think, could I be doing something better with my time rather than just making another game for another console cycle?" he said. Rather than embark on a new career path, he decided to use his years of experience developing games as a way to raise awareness of ecological issues, enlisting his longtime colleague to help bring his idea to life.
Much like Ecco the Dolphin, Jupiter & Mars is an underwater adventure game set in the distant future, after humanity has disappeared. The planet is slowly recuperating after being ravaged by the effects of climate change; major coastal cities have been submerged by the rising sea levels, and neon-colored fish and coral reefs have begun to gradually repopulate the sunken steel and cement ruins left in man's wake. Despite the Earth's steady recovery, mankind's impact can still be felt in the traces of technology that linger on the ocean floor, particularly the "space stations"--mysterious bases that continue to disrupt the environment even in their semi-powered state.
While Tigertron's message is clear even from this brief synopsis, Jupiter & Mars doesn't lecture players; rather, the game conveys these issues subtly through its world and gameplay. "We're not trying to preach, we're not trying to be heavy-handed and tell you, 'You're such a bad person for using plastic and wearing leather Nikes,'" Mielke said. "What we want to do is, we want to present a really compelling world. Our goal is to get people to think, like, 'Well, could this really happen?' And if they become curious enough to investigate for themselves what the reality is, then for us that's mission accomplished."
The game casts players in the role of the eponymous Jupiter and Mars, two highly evolved dolphins with special abilities. The pair are entreated by an ancient race of whales known as the Elders to find and shut the remaining space stations down, and their ensuing journey takes them through five diverse and visually stunning biomes, from crystalline tropics to murky ocean depths and even the submerged remains of London. To shut the space stations down, however, the dolphins will first need to figure out how to slip past the AHDs--acoustic harassment devices--that surround each base and emit audio pulses that deter marine life.
Both Jupiter and Mars have their own innate abilities that players will need to utilize to navigate the ocean. Jupiter, who players control directly from a first-person perspective, is able to emit pulses of echolocation to illuminate her surroundings and interact with other marine life; Mars, your constant AI companion on the journey, can ram into objects on command to break through crumbling gates and open new passageways. In the same vein of a Metroid game, the dolphins will also need to acquire power-ups to gain access to new areas of the world; the Aqualung ability, for instance, allows Jupiter and Mars to dive much deeper below the surface than they typically could, while the Tail Kick power lets them swim against strong currents that would normally be impassable.
While the overarching goal of the adventure is to neutralize the space station located in each biome, Jupiter & Mars also features lots of light environmental puzzle solving and other kinds of moment-to-moment gameplay. Throughout the journey, you'll encounter various sea life in need of assistance; early on in the game, a mother turtle asks you to rescue her babies, who are scattered about the area and tangled in plastic. You'll need to use echolocation to track down the turtles and free them, thereby opening up a pathway to a new location. During the course of your adventure, you'll also come across collectibles in the form of trinkets and other remnants of human society. These are hidden around the environment and tucked away in clam shells that Mars can crack open, encouraging you to poke around and explore each locale.
Jupiter & Mars doesn't yet have a release date, but the game is slated to release for PS4 in late 2018. While the title is compatible with PSVR, the headset isn't required to play it. For an even closer look at the game, you can watch us play 13 minutes of it in the video above. The footage is taken from an early build and may not necessarily be reflective of the final version.