Tharsis Nintendo Switch Quick Hit Review – A Dicey Endeavor

Tharsis Nintendo Switch Banner

“Space: the final frontier”, or so it’s been said. “Tharsis” is actually a real name of the “vast volcanic plateau centered near the equator in the western hemisphere of Mars”. Imagine, if you will, that a mysterious signal is detected coming from that same region of Mars. This behavior prompts you and a crew of astronauts to take part in a risky space mission to investigate. Also, imagine that during this space trip, it’s the worst week of your life. It’s the kind where anything and everything can go wrong! So begins Tharsis!

This is the best way to set the table on what developer Choice Provisions has in store for you in their newest Nintendo Switch offering, Tharsis. Tharsis is best described as a turn-based space survival strategy game. With dice. And with, oh yeah, cannibalism. We took some time to explore Tharsis on the Nintendo Switch and we thought we’d convey our impressions in this quick-hit review!

Putting The “Challenge” Into Survival
Pick Your Crew Members

When a mission starts, pick your crew and your difficulty.

What started out as a release on Steam PC and Playstation 4 four years ago is now seeing release on the Nintendo Switch platform. Distinctly put, Tharsis is truly a turn-based, space survival strategy game that has nasty challenges. The gameplay is like a mix between a board game lumped in with some video game mechanics. The detail behind the events and mechanics is initially quite overwhelming just because there is a lot to understand.

Warning, Warning Will Robinson!
Campaign Screen

How can so much go wrong at once?

The main story mode puts “you” and a crew of astronauts on the task of making it to Mars to investigate a mysterious signal. On the way, all hell breaks loose mechanically and environmentally as anything and everything goes wrong. Each “stage” is a series of events, none of them good. You need to move crew members around to de-escalate each event to prevent hull damage. If your hull strength goes to zero in a given turn it’s game over.

A Dicey Affair
Dice Allocation

A lot to take in

Each crew member has a stress level to manage, health points, specific skills and a given number of dice to use, yes dice. You see in Tharsis outcomes and actions are based on dice rolls. It’s true this is not the entire story as the player needs to employ a strategy on where and how to use the dice and whether to re-roll. Sometimes a high die rolled can be used to raise the health of a crew member versus applying that “point total” to the total needed to complete the event, i.e. prevent a disaster.

Event Complete

Successful completion is rolling the dice to take the repair number to zero.

Side Projects And Stress, Hunger And Health

If you de-escalate all the events in a campaign and keep the hull intact you’ll then move onto the next phase and series of events. In between these campaigns, you’ll get a chance to do “side projects”, which is merely food distribution if you have any, and buffs and debuffs.

This is loot

Hmm, things looking grim.

So Much Info On Such A Small Screen
Common Definitions

It is a help screen but yikes, that’s a lot of text!

The game does have access to “training” missions which are helpful to try in accordance with the tutorial. The presentation of the game suffers slightly in undocked mode. There is so much detail presented on each screen which most times results in tiny text. With having to remember so many different terms and conditions this can be a bit frustrating.

Lasting Impressions

The turn-based nature of the game is fun but the difficulty scale, even on normal, will be challenging to most. Perhaps a lot of this is due to the nature of great success being tied to successful dice rolls. In a lot of events, two specific dice values can translate into penalties that can cut down on your options. While the premise and execution seemed fun it seemed complex enough that you might feel it requires you to be a rocket scientist to play.

Compare To: Talisman

Note: A Nintendo Switch eShop code was provided for the purpose of this review.

Written by
Scott is a comic book, music and gaming nerd since the late 70s. Gaming all began on the Colecovision and Atari 2600. He buys and reads new comics every Wednesday from his LCBS and helps run an online Heavy Metal radio station.

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