Caverns of Mars: Recharged review: Better left in the ’80s

Sneaky Box
Sneaky Box /

Title: Caverns of Mars: Recharged
Developer: Sneakybox and AdamVision
Publisher: Atari
Platforms:  Nintendo Switch (reviewed on), PS5, PS4, XBox SEries X|S, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: March 9, 2023

Cavern of Mars, the original Atari version, was released back in the 80’s. In an era of reboots and remakes, I figure it’s only natural to go back to some classic games of one’s childhood and try to re-up them using the advancements in modern gaming technology. Sneakybox and AdamVision have done just that with Cavern of Mars: Recharged for the Nintendo Switch.

For some history, the original game was released in 1981. A high school senior at the time named Greg Christensen submitted his proposal to Atari via the civilian mail order system. Executives loved it,  and long story short, Caverns of Mars became the first game submitted to the program that was released by Atari.

Fast forward 42 years later, and we have Caverns of Mars: Recharged — a top-down scroller where we control a spaceship through a series of tunnels imbued with obstacles galore. Added on to the original game is an influx of vibrant colors along with features such as leaderboards, local co-op, and an arcade mode. While these features are useful in many games, they don’t serve any real purpose in Caverns of Mars.

It’s important to note that I remember the original game. It’s one of the first games I received when my parents bought me my Atari as a kid along with Maze Craze, Vanguard and a host of others. The beauty of the Atari games is the nostalgia that comes along with them. While improvement is often a good thing, video games exist within their own little bubble.

You see, when you change something about a video game such as the graphics or add new features as is in this game, it essentially changes the entire set-up of the game. When you change a game like Caverns of Mars that is 42 years old, it is essentially changing an entire memory set for players familiar with the game. These memories have shaped people’s lives, who they were and who they have come to be. Changing an aspect of these memories impacts people more than one may imagine. As a result, game developers exist in this tiny bubble when it comes to classic video games as they need to ensure they keep what is true to the game and any additions may serve as the gravy rather than the meat and potatoes itself.

Unfortunately, that is the complete opposite of what occurred with Caverns of Mars: Recharged.

The first thing I immediately noticed was the speed of the ship. It is lightning fast and near impossible to navigate the levels. The only way to slow down your ship is to shoot. Every time you fire your ship’s weapons, you not only slow down but also use more fuel. Shooting functions more as a navigation technique as it allows you to turn your ship in a much easier way. It simply is not possible to turn without shooting as your ship moves too fast for the size of the level. Not doing so will just have you crash into a wall and die.

Fuel “cells” are scattered throughout the level and shooting them refills your gauge. Striking any walls, bombs or other obstacles lower your damage, and unlike fuel, there is no way to lower your damage meter. Losing it all results in death. You can shoot directly through the cave itself and make a tunnel de jour for yourself, but even this “easier” way becomes much more difficult due to poor mechanics implementation.

Your ship’s guns are located on the front inner portion of your ship and fire straight down. As a result, you can blow through cavern walls for your ship to travel through. The only issue is that the hole is too narrow for your ship, and your wings smash the walls causing you to die. Therefore, this brand-new feature serves no real or practical purpose. In fact, it makes the game more difficult. This is one of those changes I was discussing about nostalgia. Why change something that was enjoyed to something that doesn’t function properly?

Another new addition is the inclusion of multiple weapon types. Our ship can switch from machine gun-type bullets to a shotgun spread to a laser weapon. Now, initially, this sounds like an intriguing idea. In functionality, the game becomes harder as you get more “advanced” weaponry. One example is the placement of the weapons themselves. They are situated throughout the level to where it is impossible to avoid picking them up because of how you have to navigate your ship. Trying to avoid the weapon causes you to die due to the clunky maneuverability. Picking up the weapon makes it more difficult because you now have to fire the weapon to slow your ship down in order to navigate the maze. In other words, the game is making your gameplay more difficult by the very nature of its lackluster setup as opposed to requiring actual skill. I guess a good analogy would be to imagine playing Sekiro or a fighting game that forced you to hit your opponent with a paper bag to damage him instead of requiring the skill the game does with blocks and parries.

Caverns of Mars: Recharged is a perfect example of how technological “improvements” can make something worse than the original. All of the features newly added from the original have merit depending on their placement or the type of game they are included in. Unfortunately, none of these features have any business in Caverns of Mars: Recharged. It isn’t simply because of what it does to the original game either. A new player that never played the original game would notice it right away. I mean, it’s not difficult to notice a game forcing you to get weaponry that makes it much more likely for you to die every time you use it.

I played over ten levels and nothing changed. In fact, I had to force myself to play even that much as I wanted to stop on the first level. The poor weaponry, clunky navigation, unbalanced ship speed and other unneeded features took away everything that made the first game good. A basic game of skill and patience turned mutated monster due to selfish desires. Unfortunately, there isn’t much good to say about Caverns of Mars: Recharged as it should have stayed in the ’80s relegated to our nostalgic memories. Like Cheez-its instead of Cheese Nips and Oreo instead of Hydrox, change is not always a good thing.

Caverns of Mars: Recharged (Nintendo Switch) Score: 3.5 / 10

Caverns of Mars: Recharged is a perfect example of how technological “improvements” can ruin something good that should’ve been left alone.

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.