39 Days to Mars is a couch co-op 2D puzzler, created by It’s Anecdotal, set in the 19th Century following two scientists, Sir Albert Wickesand The Right Honourable Clarence Baxter, on their adventure to get to Mars. You can play the game single player with the help of your trusty ship’s cat, but it is recommended that you play with a friend. The key to the game is getting to Mars, whilst trying not to let your ship the HMS Fearful fall to pieces. There are tea and scones along the way too!
I roped my boyfriend in to test out the co-op experience and as a great way to test our relationship. I’ve seen what couch co-ops can do to relationships, they can tear apart even the closest of friends. 39 Days to Mars had us both pulling our hair out a few times and certainly made a few beard hairs curl in frustration, but good news! We’re still together. If that isn’t a good litmus test for a co-op puzzle game I don’t know what is.
I really enjoy the voice acting in this. Both of our characters offer perfectly plummy well-to-do vocals that certainly leave you with a smile. They’re quirky and quintessentially British. The ship could be crumbling around them, but the most important thing to do, above fixing the issues, was to sit down and make a nice cuppa.
39 Days to Mars is beautiful. On a backdrop of tea-stained parchment, the environment and characters are simple black ink. Features are highlighted in a wash of warm color, making your next steps easily identifiable and the animation is smooth and appealing to watch. I love how the ships are randomly generated (something I didn’t realize ’til I tackled single player), so as you dash around the HMS Fearful on each playthrough you’ll get a slightly different experience.
Puzzles are varied and just the right level of challenging. You are given no instruction, however, you don’t need it after you tinker with the features of that puzzle, or a character has a revelation – like how neither of you knows how to do gardening, and should probably consult a book on plants in order to fix one problem. I loved that, making you look beyond what’s in front of you and not shaming you into backing out to investigate elsewhere. Some puzzles also made you go ‘what on earth’ when you first encounter them, which makes it all the more satisfying when you resolve.
In between patching up the ship from various catastrophes, you will find that the clock strikes tea time and any repairs must wait whilst you brew a nice cup of tea and enjoy a perfectly prepared scone. It was a fantastic level of eye roll because of course, these well-to-do gents would rather go down in a ball of flames than forsake their British traditions!
Sometimes puzzles in39 Days to Mars will take you outside of the ship as well, venturing out into space in leaky diving bells and rickety penny-farthings. Things from outside sometimes come in that you’ll need to deal with as well, each with their own little clever ways that need resolving.
However, it’s countered by this overly morose music. We have this wonderful concept in front of us, with two eccentric scientists in their lovingly made ship going about with such excitement – but to the backdrop of downbeat piano. This is a whimsical tale, and it needs more of a Charleston beat to it in order to match. The music puts a distracting downer on the game, where at one point, my housemate woke up to hear us playing the game and wondered if he’d woken up into some strange hellscape in his sleep-deprived night shift brained sensibility. Give us some cheer! We’re going to Mars! This is something to celebrate!
The puzzles within 39 Days to Mars themselves are lovely little tests, but I couldn’t help but wonder if they run better on PC. The controls are, how to put it simply… Janky as heck. I can’t picture this being the same on PC – but maybe it is! I don’t have that version to find out. I have the game on Xbox One and found that a good percentage of the game runs smoothly, but then there are a few odd hitches that we encountered.
One of the most common issues was that the game would randomly switch which character we were playing, despite our controllers being wired in, so it couldn’t be a connection issue. Most of the movements work as they should as you go through the game, but there were certain ones where controlling your portion was agonizing. The last time I checked this wasn’t Surgeon Simulator, and I don’t think it was supposed to be like this either. In a particular game where you have to make the perfect scone, I would hold out my controller and do nothing as we watched my little cartoon hand on the screen go bonkers.
We also encountered a catastrophic bug where when we exited 39 Days to Mars and reloaded after breaking for lunch, we opened up the game to find that it had booted us back to the start of the game. It’s autosaving, which left us both utterly confused. I tried to see if perhaps one of us had accidentally changed the profile and therefore it wasn’t on the profile with the save… Nope. So we had lost a good hour and a half of game time. Considering the game on average takes about two hours to complete, we were pretty devastated. I’d very much be interested if these same issues are encountered on PC, and in the upcoming Switch port as well.
Alas, the boyfriend has to go home at some point, so I decided to switch over to the single-player mode and see how that held up by comparison.
The short answer, much smoother. I’m not sure why it seems to be the case, but playing solo resolved all the issues I had when playing co-op. Rather than two people controlling two hands, you control both by using the left trigger/stick for one hand and right trigger/stick for the other. It’s a bit of a bind at first to get your head around, but I was solving puzzles comfortably in no time.
There isn’t any deviation from the main story, nor any new puzzles as far as I could tell. You simply play the co-op game without the second character and instead have the assistance of your cat rather than your scientist buddy. This means you don’t get the amusement of the dialogue between Baxter and Albert, for that alone I do recommend you try to grab a friend to play this with.
Overall, 39 Days to Mars needs a little work. Like I said, perhaps the issues I encountered aren’t on PC and it’s a much better experience, however from what I experienced it did make challenges that should have been far simpler a bit of a mare. The music really needs more, as a game’s score can really make all the difference to the atmosphere of a game. Give it light, give it fun! We’re two plummy gents on an adventure for space! They deserve a better soundtrack to their journey.
The puzzles themselves were great to complete, and you truly feel satisfied when you figure out what the catch is. I know that 39 Days is only intended as a short experience, but honestly, I would have been happy to hash out some more puzzles presented in this style.
If you’re playing on a console as I did, I recommend playing 39 Days to Mars solo for a smoother experience. However, if you wanted to brave some slightly broken controls, by all means, give the co-op a go!