[Review] Tharsis – Nintendo Switch

Written by Paige Detlefsen
  • Developer: Choice Provisions
  • Publisher: Qubic Games
  • Release Date: 11/04/2020
  • Price: £10.79 / $11.99
  • Review code provided by Qubic Games

Introducing: Tharsis Nintendo Switch Review

The first manned mission to Mars turns disastrous in its final stretch. With careful planning and a roll of the dice, can the crew make it to their destination? Or will they succumb to their stress and start feeding on human flesh?

Tharsis is a strategic dice rolling game, where you take control of four crewmates in the Iktomi. After a meteorite takes out most of the ship’s storage, you must survive another ten weeks to land on Mars.

Only one way out

Every crew member you have can be deployed to one area of the ship. Here, you can attempt to repair issues that might result in hull damage, or decrease everyone’s health. Any active event will cause damage to those passing through, so they can’t be completely ignored. Repairing is done by rolling dice and adding their value to reduce the repairs needed. You have at least one re-roll, but it’s not always wise. When in an affected area, rolling certain numbers may cause injury. Of course, if they die from said injuries, there’s no retrying. Specific numbers may also be affected by stasis, meaning they will not change in a roll, and if voided they’ll disappear entirely. You can build up assists which prevent these events from happening, but you can’t avoid them all. If you’ve got a dice you want to keep you can put it in the hold, but that only keeps it between re-rolls and not turns. Whenever you deploy a crew member, the amount of dice they can roll at once depletes by one. Dice can be replenished with food between turns.

If you’re ahead of the game or have spare dice left, you can use them for a few things. Each crew mate has a specific ability, such as adding another layer to the hull; these can be activated by putting a high-numbered die away. If the module you’re in is in good shape, they have their own abilities such as adding food, or fully healing present crew. These are done by having multiples of dice that equal each other. Finally, you can put one of each number of die into research projects. These use a particular number of them to give you a chosen benefit, such as giving more assists or repairing a module by twenty three points (using one die will allow you to reshuffle the options.) Using research items doesn’t count as being deployed, so it’s possible to fix an issue in one module, then move to another and play their turn. The order in which you use your crew is particularly important, as the module’s abilities can only be used once per turn.

In-between each turn, the damages to hull and health will be applied. If the hull is destroyed or all crew members die, the mission is a failure. If you last another round, the crew will present you with two choices which might give more health at the cost of dice, for example. Then, you’ve the choice to feed crew if you’ve any food (replenishing three dice) or cannibalize a preserved corpse. Running out of that will give you the option to sacrifice a crewmate for food. This does impact the overall health of the crew, and really, I found it better to avoid when possible. It’s at these points that stress really plays a factor, since the more stressed they are, the less sensible choices you’ll have to choose between, and you must choose. After all this, the next turn will roll on with more randomly generated disasters to manage. There are three difficulty modes, but it can be hard to see the difference between them. On easy, I could easily lose a crew member in the first turn due to injury rolls.

Airlocks

Failure can be inevitable, but there are unlockable crew members with new abilities. Given their unlock requirements, losing is to be expected. Your score is tracked, so you can at least try to do better than the last time. Outside of the main mode, there are ten different missions. These can feel more fun than playing the main game, as the events you encounter aren’t randomly generated. A few are tutorial-based, while others are extreme challenges. It’s a great way to practice strategy, and I wish there were more of them.

In space, no one can see you fail

Tharsis Nintendo Switch

The game takes place on an outer view of the Iktomi. When entering a room, you’ll see the particular astronaut inside. Every crew member is shown by their face in the interface, they look rough and goofy. One nice detail is that if a character becomes a cannibal, the dice they roll will be bloodied. In handheld, the visuals lack a lot more clarity. In between each turn, illustrated visuals depict narrated cut-scenes showing the mind-set of the crew during the journey.

The sound design is good, although I couldn’t hear much of the soundtrack over it. Tharsis does have modern ambient music, and I liked the narrator’s voice work.

Ship-shape

I had absolutely no technical or performance issues either handheld or docked. The controls work great on Switch and I hardly had to think about them at all.

Get me out of here!

Since a run can be quite short, it’s very easy to feel like just one more go (or another five,) but then have that enthusiasm curbed by a lethal dosing of dice. Even so, the somewhat quick gameplay makes it a better fit for handheld gamers. The narrative seems intriguing, but is a little disappointing. While the game isn’t hard to wrap your head around, some things did need a little better explaining, like perhaps mentioning the need to be in flight control before the end of the last turn – BEFORE THE LAST TURN BEGINS. It can be hard to review games with such a high luck element, as it leaves a sour taste for many. Still, the average game length and unlockables give you more reason to try again. I’d love this style of gameplay with more set missions.

Pros

  • Strategic missions and unlockable characters
  • Good playtime and controls for the Switch
  • Nice cutscenes

Cons

  • Strategy can feel unrewarded
  • Failure can be determined quite early in a run

Verdict
When they acknowledge it as a suicide mission, I couldn’t agree more.
3/5

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