Vermes on Mars is to twin-stick shooters what the Resident Evil series is to third-person shooters. This doesn’t mean that it’s a survival horror game teeming with zombies, but this is a game that doesn’t let you shoot while moving. And while those controls may work when you’re trying to create tension in a horror game, they don’t work quite so well in a fast-paced shooter.
As it turns out, there is life on Mars– but not teeny, tiny, microscopic bacteria. Instead, Mars is infested with giant, sand-dwelling worms. In order to make any kind of use out of the planet, you’ll first need to get rid of this rather large nuisance.
Walk without rhythm, and you won’t attract the worm.
To do this, you’ll take your squad of four robotic vehicles from one area to the next, across a few dozen levels, destroying each and every sand worm. Each level is timed and all are relatively short. The worms, meanwhile, remain hidden until you get close enough to disturb them, at which point they come screaming out of the sand. This forces you to not only explore every nook and cranny of a level, but also to do it quickly. As you kill worms, you’ll earn money, which can be used to upgrade your robots and eventually buy new models.
The structure of the game is great. Though there’s a linear path of levels, the path regularly branches, giving you optional levels to complete. These are great if you want to earn some extra money, but more importantly it means you’ll rarely get stuck. Since you always have two or three level options, you’re not forced to play a level you can’t beat over and over. However, the difficulty does spike fairly early on, which can be jarring.
Maybe you can just keep the planet.
The premise and structure of Vermes on Mars are both great, but they’re ultimately let down by an unwieldy control scheme. To move, you simply tap where you want your robots to go, and to fire you do the same. The problem is these two actions can’t be done at the same time. Tapping the edge of the screen allows you to switch between movement and weapons, which creates an awkward situation where you’re always stationary while engaging with enemies. If you want to change positions, you’ll need to stop firing, which is never a good idea, especially if there are multiple worms on screen.
The placement of the switching button poses a problem, too. With the button on the edge of the screen, you may find yourself accidentally switching modes when all you really want to do is move to the other side of the level.
To its credit, Vermes on Mars attempts something new, but it simply doesn’t work. The game would play much better as a standard twin-stick shooter. But instead, it’s a game with a great premise, lots of levels, and an excellent upgrade system that just happens to have awful controls. What a waste.