Parents need to know that "Jupiter & Mars" is a downloadable underwater exploration virtual reality game for the PlayStation and PlayStation VR. The game is set in a future in which humanity has depleted the world of key resources, completely polluted the planet, and caused intolerable climate change. Players take on the role of a dolphin swimming around the sea floor helping various animals still dealing with the garbage and debris that humans poured into the ocean before they disappeared while deactivating remaining machinery interfering with aquatic life. There's no violence beyond dolphins ramming rocks to break them apart and occasionally getting stung by jellyfish. Strong themes of ocean conservation permeate both play and the story, and the activist organizations SeaLegacy and The Ocean Foundation both provide live action videos explaining their missions and why they believe it's important for people to change their ways before it's too late. Parents should also be aware that virtual reality equipment makers don't recommend VR experiences for kids younger than 12 due to the potential impact the technology may have on younger players' physiological development.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
"Jupiter & Mars" begins with a prologue explaining how humanity – referred to by the game's sea creatures as "earthwalkers" – has disappeared, having exhausted the planet's key resources and suffered the effects of irreversible climate change. But the mess they created before their extinction persists, as evidenced by all of the ocean animals still dealing with the garbage shoveled into their ecosystem. Players control a pair of dolphins – moving one, commanding the other – as they explore the sea floor, looking for ways to help endangered animals and shut down the last remnants of humanity's mechanical legacy, which are still distressing ocean life. As Jupiter, players use echolocation to map their immediate surroundings, send out sonar waves to revive dazed creatures, and issue orders for Mars to ram objects, such as cracked rocks, oysters, and rusting metal bars to break them open and reveal secrets and passages. The bulk of the game is spent exploring as the pair searches for collectibles, machinery to shut down, and creatures to help. Players will also encounter simple missions, such as one that involves recruiting rays to charge up a generator and open a door. Beyond the game, kids can watch videos produced by the activist organizations SeaLegacy and The Ocean Foundation to learn more about their causes and what they're doing to preserve the ocean.
IS IT ANY GOOD?
Few games are as laidback and stress-free as this ecologically focused one. Jupiter and Mars spend the bulk of their time enjoying the ocean, a vivid and stylized blue world with Tron-like light accents and a lush underwater soundscape consisting of upbeat music, bubbling and sonar effects, and the melodic sounds of sea creatures. And if any of these animals are found to be in distress, they can typically be quickly and safely helped with a quick blast of Jupiter's sonar ability. The adventure is founded on the admittedly dark notion of humanity's self-caused extinction, but it's clear that the disappearance of people is a boon for sea life.
Interested players should be aware that exploration is a slow and sedate activity, and the sameness of your surroundings means you're bound to circle back to familiar areas, perhaps while searching for a frustratingly elusive final collectible in a set. Also, a greater diversity of activities would have been nice. Saving sea creatures, finding treasure, and gradually earning the ability to swim deeper and against stronger currents is fun, but it would have been nice if there was a little more to do. Still, "Jupiter & Mars" is generally a pleasure, has a great message, and provides a safe virtual reality experience for families looking for a PSVR game with minimal violence.
RATING AND CONTENT
Recommended for ages 10 and older
Quality: 4 out of 5
Positive messages: 4 out of 5
Positive role models: 2 out of 5
Ease of play: 5 out of 5
Violence: 0 out of 5
Sex: 0 out of 5
Language: 0 out of 5
Drinking, drugs, and smoking: 0 out of 5
Consumerism: 0 out of 5
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation VR
Release date: April 22, 2019
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