The spiritual sequel to ARK on Switch.
Reviewing games often entails building an opinion based on pre-release code. Often times the issues a reviewer encounters will be fixed by a day-one patch. Such was my hope with JCB Pioneer: Mars. With that in mind I intentionally held off on my review to see if progress could be made in this very rough release. Unfortunately, one month later, JCB Pioneer: Mars remains extremely difficult to enjoy.
The story opens with a crash landing on Mars. From there, you’re guided along a set of linear objectives to acquire a rover and make it back to your base. Once you make it to shelter things open up, and you’re largely left on your own to survive. The world itself is quite large, and exploring it requires careful management of power, oxygen, and other consumables. In order to expand your range, you’ll have to expand your base.
You’re given a few objectives to build specific buildings but nothing much in the way of instructions for how to accomplish them. This is how most of JCB’s gameplay unfolds: decide what you want to build, wander out into the wilderness, hopefully find what you need, dump it into a fabricator, and repeat. There is also an interesting power management system which calls to mind the classic Sim City games. Each structure has specific power requirements that must be maintained in order for them to fulfil their purpose. All of this would make for a fun survival game, if it actually worked.
JCB is remarkably glitchy. I’ve seen the main menu become an unusable, garbled mess, I’ve seen my rover teleported into the Martian atmosphere for no apparent reason, and I’ve seen my entire base up and vanish. In each of these instances I ultimately found myself forced to restart the entire application. The whole experience is then punctuated by random performance drops and UI errors that make the experience that much harder to get a grasp of. These issues result in a game that quite simply doesn’t work. Every time I felt like I was making progress, my base would disappear, forcing me to restart from a previous save. When I went out to explore a new area, my rover would glitch itself high into the sky. In spite of my best efforts, it felt as though JCB was actively fighting my progress. Even just exiting to the main menu could often cause glitches and crashes.
The concept of JCB Pioneer: Mars, in isolation, is potentially interesting. The Switch version, however, presents so many obstacles to gameplay that I feel comfortable calling it unplayable. The release of games like this and ARK: Survival Evolved draw into question the existence of Nintendo’s quality control. Products like this are an embarrassment to Nintendo’s digital offerings.