Prevent Pollution By Putting Everyone To Sleep

HIGH A nice environmentalist undertone.

LOW Constantly slamming on the X button to make the levels navigable.

WTF Awkward, uncomfortable PSVR implementation.

Jupiter & Mars is purportedly about dolphins, and yet I have never felt less like a dolphin than while playing this game. There is, of course, no requirement that it make me feel like a dolphin in order to earn my recommendation, but a bit of speed and energy would’ve made this underwater adventure less of a confusing slog than it is.

This title from new developer Tigertron is set in a distant future where humans have disappeared, having failed to fix that whole climate change thing. (The environmentalist message is one of the few things I can’t fault J&M for.) The oceans have claimed the ruins of the old world, and the two titular dolphins have an unspecified mission that involves exploring sunken relics.

While the screenshots for J&M make it look like some freaky deep-sea rave, the bright neon colors are reserved almost exclusively for flora and fauna. The environments themselves are dark and muddy to the point of being nearly impossible to read, despite the facts that (A) much of the adventure is set in shallow seas while the sun is up, and (B) dolphins have excellent eyesight.

Nevertheless, we’re forced to view the entirety of the campaign through Jupiter’s echolocation, which reduces what should have been stunning underwater vistas to ugly black-and-white wireframes. Even if we were to excuse this as a technical limitation – say, if developer Tigertron’s resources were limited and the echolocation mechanic gave them a way to skimp on detail – it doesn’t reduce the annoyance of having to constantly hit the X button every second or two to send another ping out.

J&M uses a first-person camera with no way to look and move independently. Even putting aside the weirdly sluggish controls (I felt more like I was piloting a submersible than a dolphin) combing environments is a painfully slow process. It takes ages just to get somewhere, and even longer to scan environments thoroughly, since looking in a direction means committing to moving in said direction.

These controls clash miserably with J&M being an exploration-centric title that already feels at a disadvantage due to its levels being draped in permanent darkness. A map would have made things infinitely easier to digest, but all we get is a compass, and one that doesn’t even have the decency to point us toward our objectives — no, it’s one of those old-fashioned, real-world compasses that just points north.

While navigating from one end of a level to the other would be challenge enough given how black and nondescript so much of J&M looks, Tigertron frequently stretches the campaign out by sending us on fetch quests, usually to collect such-and-such number of aquatic creatures for a character who’s particularly concerned about them. Given how it looks and controls, this is a lousy idea.

Tigertron also occasionally pits us against some semblance of danger, usually in the form of old machines that unleash shockwaves. Swimming from cover to cover should be a rudimentary process, but again, it’s hurt by the camera being tethered to movement. If I’m looking at the slab of rock I intend to use as my next piece of cover, I’m not looking at the shockwaves, and lacking the information necessary to time my movements properly. The checkpoints for these segments aren’t severe, but they’re annoying regardless.

J&M includes PSVR support, and I’ll always applaud that, especially coming from what I assume is a tiny company. Unfortunately, its implementation is extraordinarily lacking, mainly because it exacerbates the movement/camera issue. The entire appeal of VR is being able to look around environments freely, and J&M doesn’t allow me to do that without also launching my character in that direction.

J&M was released on Earth Day, and includes information on two nonprofit organizations aiming to preserve the world’s oceans. Between that and its jubilant presentation (aided by a bouncy main theme that briefly fooled me into thinking that the game would be much more enjoyable than it turned out to be) J&M is too well-intentioned to get angry at. Unfortunately, I imagine most players will be too bored to be persuaded by its important message.

Rating: 4.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Tigertron.It is currently available on PlayStation 4. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PlayStation 4. Approximately four hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated Everyone and has no descriptors. Nothing wrong with this one.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Subtitles are available for what little spoken dialogue there is, and sound cues play no important role. I played a large portion of the game with no sound and was fine. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. There is no control diagram. Players use the left analog stick to aim and hold R2 to swim forward. X activates echolocation, square fires a sonar projectile, circle sends the companion dolphin to attack objects, and triangle is used for a quick 180-degree turn.

Mike Suskie
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