MARS Bundle Starter Pack – A Sluggish and Unfulfilling Endeavor
The MARS Bundle Starter Pack could have taken players on a nostalgic trip down arcade memory lane but unfortunately, it didn't quite hit the mark.
Throughout my childhood, you usually would find me in one of two places: in front of a game console at home or at my local arcade playing Mortal Kombat or House of the Dead. One of the most appealing factors of games like House of the Dead was the use of the light-gun. Being able to frantically shoot oncoming zombies before getting munched on was a thrilling experience; unfortunately, that is something we don’t get to endeavor much in today. Wanting to bring back those moments of nostalgia are video game accessory company PDP, who had a hand in Disney Infinity and LEGO Dimensions, and who is responsible for bringing the lightgun gaming experience MARS to life.
When not at the arcade, hitting up Duck Hunt on the NES fulfilled many hours of entertainment for me back in the 90s so I was pretty excited to unbox the MARS Bundle Starter Pack and get sucked into some shooting shenanigans. Opening the box there are three exclusive digital games to choose from: Voyage of the Dead, Qubit’s Quest and Big Buck Hunter. Before you get started on those, you’ll need to set up the IR Station and the Lightcon gun that’s included with the MARS Starter Pack. The IR station is a small camera that detects the aiming direction of your gun when placed in close proximity to your TV. It plugs straight into your PS4’s USB port, but this is where I had somewhat of a challenge ahead of me.
What should have been the really simple process of calibrating the IR station took me at least an hour. This was really frustrating as I wanted to dive into the zombie-infested Voyage of the Dead as soon as possible. The issue was with the IR station being largely unresponsive when trying to line up the camera in conjunction with the symbol on the screen. This took countless attempts of fiddling about with different angles and going from one side of the room to another to finally allow it to calibrate. The lag associated with the process was a steady flow of annoyance until I successfully lined everything up. By this stage though, my excitement had dwindled.
What the bundle doesn’t tell you until you look at the reading material is that there is a specific range where the IR Station can be placed. The minimum distance from the camera to your TV is the same length as your screen size. If you have a rather large TV in a small room, you will encounter issues as I did.
Thankfully, the MARS lightcon was a dream to get fired up, all that was needed was a press of the trigger and a push of a button to link it up with the camera. The gun felt extremely sturdy and well made with just the right amount of weight to it to feel like you were in control. What did feel slightly awkward was the pump-action barrel for reloading. Due to the Lightcon’s compact stature, it was a feature that could have stayed out of the design as something as simple as shooting off-screen to reload would have worked just as well.
“What should have been the really simple process of calibrating the IR station took me at least an hour.”
I initially played solo on Voyage of the Dead, a game about a Caribbean cruise that goes wrong when a horde of zombies climbs aboard. Aiming with the Lightcon can be extremely precise, which made it a pleasure to pop some zombie skulls. The trigger system was satisfying to use and had just the right amount of pressure to make it feel like you were really pulling the trigger. This is where the fun ended. When in two-player mode, my aim started to lag. It felt like the game couldn’t handle two aim dots on the screen at once so when you pointed your Lightcon at an oncoming zombie, it took a few seconds to register. What’s surprising here is that up to four players can jump in on the action in Voyage of the Dead, which I don’t think would work too well since two players overloaded it. If you’re a competitive player, this may push you over the edge.
Unfortunately, the lack of responsiveness continued through the next two titles that were included in the MARS Bundle starter pack. Qubit’s Quest is a puzzle/platformer game where players use the Lightcon to clear out enemies and obstacles, while also on a mission to protect the loyal robotic canine Qubit. The controls were pretty tricky to master for the most part because of the short bursts of lag throughout, hence making the robot dog jump a taxing venture. Due to the lack of any kind of aiming reticle on screen, I was never too sure where my shots would land. I ended up mindlessly shooting in all directions in the hopes of securing at least something.
“The MARS starter bundle pack leaves me concerned for its longevity.”
In Big Buck Hunter Arcade, where you go around killing deer, the same recurring issues reared their ugly heads and any kind of excitement I had left quickly vanished. Trying to calibrate the game properly (again) and then missing most of my shots due to the molasses response time was a truly underwhelming experience that almost caused me to throw my gun through my living room window. Big Buck Hunter Arcade is very sluggish so I don’t know if I can put all of the responsibility onto the IR system. Even when I used my PS4 controller on its own, the main menu lagged horribly. I wouldn’t call myself the greatest shooter in the world but as the deer jumped onto the screen, I rarely hit them due to frame-rate sputters further reducing my accuracy.
Due to the lack of responsiveness, constant time-consuming calibration and the lack of quality games, the MARS starter bundle pack leaves me concerned for its longevity. In my opinion, a simpler and more efficient way of connecting to your TV would be beneficial as well as making it clear that even though the system works on all televisions, the size of your screen and room can have an impact on the set-up procedure. The sluggish response rate restrains both its success and enjoyment factor. If the system was tweaked to rectify these issues, it would make for a nostalgic and endearing family experience, but as it currently stands the MARS starter pack isn’t quite worth its $99.99 price tag.
MARS Starter Pack is out now on PS4 and Xbox One. You can get the games separately for $19.99 each and additional Lightcons for $29.99.