Way back in 2010, N-Fusion Interactive released a light gun-style rail shooter on Wii called Martian Panic. Earlier this year, Martian Panic returned on Nintendo Switch alongside the Martian Panic Alien Blaster accessory. The game features a deliberately corny retro vibe, lighthearted humor, and 4-player local co-op. Unfortunately, poor controls and calibration (not to mention a lack of general polish) seriously threaten the fun.
The premise of Martian Panic is simple: green-headed aliens from Mars are invading the Earth. Only a ragtag group of civilians can thwart the invaders. The story comes to life before and during levels via fully-voiced cinematics that resemble those of a PlayStation 2 game. Martian Panic seems to have received very little in the way of graphical enhancement on the way from Wii to Switch, though everything runs in widescreen. The low budget visuals sort of adds to the game’s charm, but the cutscenes are unskippable, seriously slowing the pace of the game.
The game features 8 levels and three selectable difficulties. The easiest difficulty offers unlimited continues, so it’s definitely the way to play. During each level, the camera pans around the environment, stopping whenever enemies appear. Blast the baddies, and movement resumes, just like in classic light gun games like Virtua Cop and House of the Dead. Enemies include alien foot soldiers, fat aliens that attack with their tongues, flying drones, UFOs, and more. Downed enemies sometimes drop limited-use weapons or life-refilling soda. Shooting innocent bystanders will cost a life.
Martian Panic offers a pretty standard rail shooter experience, but the lack of polish takes things down a notch. Several levels end without a boss fight, for instance, which is rather anticlimactic. Reloading the player’s weapon takes a little while instead of happening instantly. Not only is that annoying, but it leads to many unnecessary deaths. Most annoyingly, whenever players get a game over, the game switches to a red game over screen and asks them to continue. This unnecessary game over screen grinds things to a halt and proves irksome since players will likely have to continue multiple times throughout each level.
Little nuisances aside, controls and calibration are what really sink the Switch version of Martian Panic. The game can only be played by waving a Joy-Con around. Analog stick aiming is not supported – a huge shame. Each player must go through a wonky calibration process before they can play, but it’s tough to even get the game to recognize the Joy-Con you’re being forced to calibrate. For instance, when signing in a second player, the game might force the first player to re-calibrate instead. I can only imagine how painful it would be to sign in and play with four players!
Having survived the calibration process and started a game, the Joy-Cons will randomly lose their calibration entirely, causing the game to become all but unplayable. One of the face buttons on the Joy-Con will reset the cursor when this happens, so it’s not game-breaking. Still, no way should the calibration spaz out so badly, especially in a game with no other control methods.
Although analog aiming isn’t an option here, the Martian Panic Alien Blaster is. Basically, the blaster is a toy gun that (optionally) makes lights and sounds. Place the Joy-Con in the handle of the blaster, and it can then be used to control rail shooters that support the use of a single Joy-Con. Because Martian Panic wants the top of the Joy-Con to point at the screen, though, the blaster itself ends up pointing at the floor while playing. Perhaps there’s a workaround that I haven’t discovered, but I found the blaster to work better with The House of the Dead: Remake (a much better game anyway) than with Martian Panic. See our blaster review for details.
It’s a shame that Martian Panic controls so terribly, because the game would otherwise be pretty fun with friends. Up to four local players are supported, with everyone choosing from a pool of six characters. The characters selected by players will pop up and make a quip on occasion. Lives are shared among the players, though, an odd decision that will lead the team to the red game over screen far too often.
Martian Panic is not an easy game to recommend. With a terrible calibration system and poor motion controls, players have to deal with far more hassle than they should. The humorous sci-fi atmosphere and basic rail shooter gameplay have their charms, though. Fans of light gun games might find some enjoyment here, but most players will find it painful.
The Martian Panic Alien Blaster and game were provided by the publisher for review.
The Co-Op Experience: Up to four players take on those evil Martians and show them what we do with invaders here on Earth. Lives are shared between players.
Co-Optimus game reviews focus on the cooperative experience of a game, our final score graphic represents this experience along with an average score for the game overall. For an explanation of our scores please check our Review Score Explanation Guide.