Every so often, there’s a game that screams stereotypes. With a heavy dose of Victorian-era steampunk and Da Vinci-inspired art, solo studio It’s Anecdotal has channelled the fictional side of the British Empire into a puzzle-laden adventure into the unknown. So, seeing as I’m the only Brit on staff with an engineering degree, it’s fallen to me to sort the shiny diamonds from the spanner trash. This is our 39 Days to Mars review on PC.
I’ll need to find a friend, though. This tale of steam-powered rocketry has two protagonists in the form of Sir Albert Wickes and The Right Honourable Clarence Baxter, and each have a role to play in keeping the ship sturdy and the tea flowing. Because of this, couch co-op is heavily recommended, although the ship’s cat will try to muck in if you find yourself flying solo. While it’s possible to split the keyboard or wield the mouse, I’d also suggest scavenging up a couple of Xbox controllers to get the best experience.
Our jaunt to the Red Planet begins, as all the best stories do, with breakfast and a good cup of tea. A news announcer on the wireless proclaims that Outer Space was discovered to be festooned with all manner of creatures, warranting further exploration by Her Majesty’s finest subjects. Unfortunately, in this case, Albert and Baxter will have to do.
The duo’s steampunk world is rendered in a hand-drawn side-scrolling sepia that reminds me of aged newspapers or old blueprints. There’s a little bit of traditional find-item-use-item going on, but most of the story is advanced by solving special puzzles that’ll require both players (or player-and-cat) to work together in order to succeed. At first, this is a little challenging and frustrating, as each player’s controls do different things, meaning that coordination and communication are the keys to success.
Sometime later, we eventually leave the pair’s gadget-laden abode and make our way into the HMS Fearful, a steam-powered spaceship that’s held together with iron, brick, and a hefty dose of optimism. Here, the puzzles come thick and fast, as we plough through the space-scape towards glory, but the style never repeats. One might be a memory challenge, while another would focus on skill and timing. And, should the challenge drag a tad, handy hints start to sneak in.
Despite the mild frustration, 39 Days to Mars never became rage-inducing. Both Albert and Baxter are fully voice acted with reasonable British accents that deliver subdued humour, and the gently relaxing piano background music is never intrusive or off-putting. The only aspect that grated me slightly was a character mentioning distance in kilometres- something a chap of that era would never do.
This isn’t to say our experience was completely gripe-free. During our playthrough, we discovered a few bugs, but most were cleared by restarting (yes, cloud saves are supported). But the most surprising discovery was the shortness: our laid-back playthrough finished in two hours. Replayability is encouraged through a number of Steam achievements, but we’d have liked more for the $15 asking price. As it is, this felt a little less like a voyage into the unknown and more like a drive to the next town in your mate’s shonky motorhome.
Putting that to one side, 39 Days to Mars an amusing puzzle-adventure that manages to hit the right steampunk notes while mostly preserving that understated British charm. It’s worth breaking out to play with friends, particularly if you’re getting cheered or heckled by an alcohol-infused rabble. We just wish there was more voyage in this interplanetary adventure.
Note: Our review code was provided by PR ahead of launch.