Anyone who has played Giga Wing should be able to tell that Mars Matrix is the work of the same developers. They are so similar at first glance that one may wonder how creative Takumi really is. Not to worry though, because after playing it for even a little while it becomes clear that Mars Matrix is a cleverly made title that borrows heavily from, and expands upon the Giga Wing formula.
It's not hard to see why Takumi would want to essentially remake the original Giga Wing; it was a promising game with poor execution. The promising part was the Reflect Force, which made the ship temporarily invulnerable and reflects enemy shots back at them. The bad thing was that their way of making you use said device was to flood the screen with bullets until there was literally no other choice. There really wasn't any strategy to its use; recharge and use it, bomb, and recharge and use it, bomb, die and repeat. The Reflect Force (now the Gravity Hole Bomb or GHB) is in Mars Matrix, too, albeit as something to fall back on rather than a constant necessity. Make no mistake; Takumi's other trademark-totally over-the-top levels of unfriendly fire-is also stamped all over this one. The difference is that Mars Matrix puts enemies and their projectiles into a series of patterns rather than a solid wall of pure death. It's still not easy, but wits, reflexes and a good memory will serve the player well in Mars Matrix. Just like in any good shooter.
That is not the only thing that separates Mars Matrix from its roots at Takumi, and from shooters in general. Along with the GHB and the obvious normal attacks, the ship is equipped with another fun toy called the piercing cannon, which is a powerful but short-ranged laser. The sizable arsenal and lack of bombs to save your ass add considerable depth, as does the experience point system. Instead of traditional power-ups, defeated enemies drop little bronze cubes that must be collected to level the player up like an RPG. Levels are not lost upon death, so you should never feel as though you just brought a Nerf gun to a real duel. Getting cubes sets off the combo meter in the upper left corner. An additional cube picked up before the meter runs out is worth one more; the next will be worth one more than that, and so on. For example, picking up four 1-point cubes in a row is worth a total 10 exp (1+2+3+4) rather than just four (1+1+1+1). Combos also give you more points, and score is for more than just bragging rights. Like many recent shooters, Matrix forces the player to earn their additional lives, credits and ultimately free-play, along with the other unlockables. And in this case, "earn" is actually the appropriate word to use. Rather than just playing for so long or getting pitied on for dying so much, all extras are purchased from the shop, which uses points earned in game as currency. The better you do, the faster you get extra lives. Along with the shop, a score attack mode and elite mode were added for the home version (points earned in those modes can be used in the shop, too). There may only be six levels, but there is a lot of game packed into them, and many reasons to want to play again and again.
While a step up from both Giga Wings in gameplay, Mars Matrix is the missing link between them in graphics and sound. It is all 2D like its spiritual predecessor, but there is no question Mars Matrix looks better. Unfortunately, although crisp and detailed, not much really captures the eye or the imagination. The boss for level three looks cool, and what appears to be a flying utility knife at the end of level four does, too. Mostly, however, the first four levels feature fairly ordinary design, and the boys just seemed to have given up after that. The soft techno music suffers the same problem of just being totally forgettable and failing to envelope the player further into the game. The soundtrack is just there for the sake of having a soundtrack; not taking away from and certainly not adding anything to the game it's attached to. The designs and the music are not bad by any means, but "average" just falls well short of the high bar set by the rest of the game.
At least the shortcomings are minor and limited to two of the more trivial aspects. While it gets only mediocre marks in graphics and music, Mars Matrix still manages to be a great game by delivering the intensity and raw destructive fury that shooter fans love above all else in a near-flawless manner. Can be pricey, but worth it all the way.