After match–3 puzzle games, the endless runner is one of the most popular genres. It’d be easy for Stranded: Mars One to vanish amongst so much mediocrity, but it’s actually quite charming. You play an astronaut stranded on Mars. His plan to escape to safety? To keep running. A lot.
It’s a simple story but just enough to pique your interest. Your character is always running. Your main form of interaction comes from jumping and sliding. A tap anywhere on screen causes you to jump. Holding a finger down activates your jetpack for a moment. A tap on a red button causes you to slide, proving ideal when ducking under rocks. There’s a fluidity to how you explore the landscapes. But the slightest misstep will slow you down. Encountering a steep drop? You can survive it, but you want to tuck yourself in so you roll as you fall.
This steady momentum is crucial because time is everything here. You have a limited oxygen supply that’s supplemented by collecting oxygen canisters scattered around each level. If you run out of oxygen, you die and lose a life, so you really want to keep moving quickly.
With such a focus on speed and efficiency, Stranded: Mars One becomes quite a tense game. Pulling off the perfect wall jump is everything, and sometimes you’ll feel like the game is playing against you, sending your astronaut in the wrong direction entirely. More often than not, it’s because you overcooked your plan.
Almost like platformers of old, you end up wanting to do everything perfectly to shave off valuable seconds of time. More tension arises from your occasional need to backtrack since some levels turn quite convoluted.
It’s consistently quite fun, although one particularly noticeable flaw does arise. At times, especially later on in the game, Stranded: Mars One feels weighted towards you buying upgrades. These are acquirable through collectible nuts in game, as well as through spending money to buy nuts to give you the edge. Where the issue lies is how certain upgrades feel like they negatively affect the balance of the game, inadvertently making some jumps harder with them.
That’s unfortunate as, much of the time, Stranded: Mars One is a lot of fun. It has a real charm to it, thanks to its ’80s style visuals and its quirky soundtrack. Older gamers will particularly enjoy such nostalgic moments, but kids will still appreciate the fun that can be had from such an old-school approach.
Besides single-player mode, the game offers ghost races with friends, via a multiplayer system that allows you to take it in turns. While it isn’t as substantial as the single-player, it’s a nice bonus to what’s already there.
While Stranded: Mars One might seem pretty familiar, it has enough going for it to feel fresher than most games. Crucially, it’s going to be fun for a while and ideal to dip in and out of.