You are better than Jesus. I mean, Jesus may be a good guy and all, but could we really expect him to save us from the Bydo empire? Being able to produce fish from a basket is not really a sought-after ability that helps to bring down massive, evil fleets of enemy ships. You, on the other hand, know how to pilot various space craft and launch countless weapons at foes without giving a second thought to the families of those for-some-reason-evil pilots or questioning the morality of your actions. It's all part of being a shooter fan. Jesus has no flight training, and preaching just doesn't have the impact a gravity hole bomb does. Besides, Jesus is too quick to lay down his life for others. You, on the other hand, strive to survive and continue to fight to save your people by slaughtering all those who stand in your way.
The best thing about Mars Matrix is the innovation it brings into the tired old genre. Specifically, since that's why you're reading this review -- for specific facts and details about the game at hand -- Mars Matrix has an innovative control configuration and experience point system. Mars Matrix is perfectly suited for the Dreamcast controller thanks to its one-button control scheme. You have four weapons of destruction available to you at most any time, and selecting among them is all done -- quite simply -- with that single button. Pressing the button rapidly will yield rapid fire (either a spread or powerful laser depending on the selected ship). If you wait a split second, split being about half in this case, you'll see the little ball of electrical power on the tip of your ship expand, at which point pressing the shot button will deliver the powerful albeit short-ranged Piercing Cannon. Finally, when you hold down the shot button and deplete a fully charged Gravity Hole Bomb meter, located at the bottom of the screen, you'll launch a powerful bomb which uses gravity and black holes to obliterate most enemies on the screen with immense damage and power.
"Idiot. Can't you count? That's only three thingies! You said four."
I know. It's just that that other weapon is both a bit too complicated for inclusion with the rest in that paragraph up yonder. See, your ships are called mosquitoes for a reason. They have an "Absorption Barrier Mosquito" device which can absorb and reflect enemy bullets. When you don't deplete the gravity hole bomb meter all the way, your ship will reflect those absorbed bullets back at the enemies... if you remember to aim them at the enemies. Since you are absorbing bullets while charging, your ship is completely invincible. Running into enemies does not harm you at all. The meter charges constantly, so you'll be able to deploy a few bombs or several mosquito shots throughout each level. There are no power-ups to speak of, although there are a ton of things to collect during play.
While the weapon system is innovative, the experience point system is Mars Matrix's greatest asset. Most enemies will leave behind orange cubes of varying size. Collecting these cubes is key to leveling up your normal shots, in addition to acting as a score multiplier. There's a tiny meter at the top of the screen which fills a bit each time a cube is picked up. Larger cubes fill the meter more than smaller ones, and the meter constantly drains at a fairly rapid rate. If you can pick up a second cube before meter depletes itself, you'll earn a combo. The longer you can keep up the cube collecting chain, the quicker you'll power-up your ship and get a higher score. Of course, it's easier said or written than done, since you'll have to dodge tons of bullets while skittering across the screen collecting cubes. Enemies shot with the mosquito shot release more cubes, so it's important to learn how to effectively use the gravity hole bomb meter to both make surviving bullet storms easier and as a tool for gaining experience points.
If the pink bullets don't get you, the blue ones will.
You'd almost expect this to be a RPG shooter with all the experience point talk, and Mars Matrix almost feels like it. Points earned during play can be used to purchase stuff in the shop to make playing through easier. You begin the game with just three lives and credits but can purchase more as you gain sufficient amounts of points. While I'm not fond of having things locked out, this should at least quiet those morons who play through a game with unlimited continues and then whine that "that's all there is." Funnily enough but not funny enough to actually laugh at, Capcom has added additional play modes in the game. You can purchase score challenges to acquire the highest score possible on a given stage, and while that may seem too "time attack-y" for some of you, you'll be happy to know that there is a completely rearranged elite challenge mode which repositions all enemies and their attacks. This really does, in effect, give you two shooters for the price of one. Well, maybe not, but it does extend the lifespan of a "short" game.
Mars Matrix is technically a short game, but the challenge is so great that you'll be grateful there's not more than six levels. If you're looking for a challenging and extremely demanding shooter, then you should go buy one. I'd suggest Mars Matrix, cause it's all that and a bag of something. Enemy bullets fill the screen so much at times and fly so quickly that it may seem all but impossible. A good combination of knowing how to use the Absorption Barrier Mosquito and quick reflexes will ensure a decent chance of survival, but even then the game is tough. Even with only a handful of levels (well, maybe a mutant's hand), you'll not see the ending any time soon. For those looking for a fast, reflex intensive challenge, that is definitely a plus.
The game itself is very stylish and well presented. Mars Matrix is bursting with style! Although, for the life of me, which isn't much, I can't figure out why the menu presentation seems to utilize a bee/honeycomb theme when the ships are called mosquitoes and the thing takes place on Mars. Still, it looks nice, but looks can be deceiving... Or sometimes, they're dead on. Okay, that went nowhere, so I'll just mention how much I like the expert strategy clips available for purchase. There's some nice things available in the shop (including a gallery and options to modify your ship), but the expert strategy shows you how you can really play the game. Of course, chances are you'll never be able to really play the game like that, cause you're a mere shooter mortal. I'm dumbstruck at the insane chains that are possible, as well as how they can survive the massive bullet swarms without ever getting hit. Neat stuff.