Caverns of Mars: Recharged review for Switch, PlayStation, Xbox, VCS

Platform: Nintendo Switch
Also On: PC, PS5, Xbox, Atari VCS
Publisher: Atari
Developer: SneakyBox
Medium: Digital
Players: 1-2
Online: Leaderboards

Way back in the early days of home computers, Atari released a line of affordable systems designed to bring the convenience of a powerful PC in the home. Back then this was basically unheard of, an affordable computer for the common user, no one thought it would be possible. Atari released many version of their XL/XE line of systems ranging from full PC rigs to simple keyboard/system combos that could hook to a television. Along with this simple method of computing came a new era of computer video games that had never been seen before on the home consoles available at the time. Caverns Of Mars is one of these classic programs, and the latest game to be given the “Recharged” Treatment!

The premise of The original Caverns of Mars is very simple. You are flying a space craft deep into a cavern on Planet Mars. Inside these tube like caverns are aliens trying to shoot or intercept you during your decent. You have very little control while trying to reach the bottom of the cavern, other than slowing your speed slightly to navigate the tunnels, and a laser cannon to shoot the enemies. As you are descending, you can shoot Fuel Cells to replenish your fuel so you can reach your goal. Once you reach the bottom of the cavern, you set a time bomb and you are given a small amount of time to ascend the cavern and escape. With this new Caverns of Mars: Recharged version, almost everything about the original’s gameplay has been changed or slightly altered. First, you no longer have thrusters, meaning you are in a free fall to the bottom. The only way to slow down and navigate the tunnels is by firing your weapon to keep you hovering a bit. You also can no longer shoot Fuel Cells to replenish your fuel, but you have to collect floating cells as you are falling, which adds much more of a challenge if you are used to the original.

The biggest changes to the gameplay are the addition of different weapons, such as a powerful beam or a spread shot, and the ability to destroy almost anything in your way to carve your own path through the caverns. Since the speed and challenge of the game has been ramped up, you have to be quick so you don’t crash into walls, get hit by laser cannons, or get nailed by the fast moving enemies that seek you out with vengeance.

Also, unlike the original game, the levels are broken up into sections of the cavern, and completing a section will unlock an upgrade for your ship for the next area. Upgrades like being able to pull Fuel Cells closer to you, converting unused weapons into bonus fuel, or even a shield that can take 1 direct hit are all available at random. You need to select the best upgrade that fits your current status so you can survive the next part of the decent. Once you health or fuel is depleted while playing the game will end and you have to start over. Reaching the final section, you have to shoot at the bomb to activate the destruction of the entire cavern, but this time, you simply complete the mission and do not have to escape like in the original. Along with the standard “Arcade” mode, there are a “Mission Mode” where you complete a series of specific tasks. Missions range from not shooting your weapon for an entire section, or not taking any damage for a specific amount of time, there are many to try and are fun to attempt to master. Also added is the ability to play two player co-op, which makes some of the challenges and the arcade mode a bit easier, but it’s not online so you’ll have to have a friend in the room with you to take on this challenge.

The graphics and sound are what you would expect to see and hear with any Recharged version of these classics. Very simple polygons and dynamic backgrounds with more realistic sounds and fluid animations. Caverns is no exception to this trend, as everything looks and sounds great. Even the soundtrack is worthy of listening to on it’s own. Control doesn’t take long to get the hang of and most people can pick this one up and understand what to do in a matter of seconds. Easy to learn, hard to put down.

Caverns of Mars: Recharged originally struck me as a strange choice for this treatment. I remain under the impression that many gamers out there may not be familiar the original game all that well, but it turns out, that will not matter. Even if you’ve never played the original, this updated version is strong enough to stand on it’s own with no need to fall back on a legacy. This is one of the more addicting Recharged games to be released in this line, and I can highly recommend this to anyone that likes a simple and fun challenge. A great “pick-up and play” title that will take sometime to master.

Note: Atari provided us with a Caverns of Mars: Recharged Nintendo Switch code for review purposes.

Grade: A