Of Mice and Sand -Revised- Review — Scurry Your Way to El Dorado
Embark on a western adventure with a crew of adorable mouse pioneers in the charming colony-builder Of Mice and Sand -Revised-.
Of Mice and Sand -Revised- is a game that takes place in a huge desert wasteland on another planet inhabited by a number of different cute little anthropomorphic animals. Of those cute little desert denizens, you play as mice: short, curious critters with a knack for salvaging junk and turning it into something useful.
The game puts your mice in charge of a desert-faring craft that resembles the Sandcrawler from Star Wars. It’s every mouse’s goal to travel the wastes in search of grandeur, treasure, and perhaps even the fabled city of El Dorado… No, not that El Dorado, this is a different planet. Space El Dorado. So more “spacey.”
Of Mice and Sand -Revised- is a strategy simulation game where you order mice to do different tasks like driving the desert craft, creating usable parts from salvage, cooking, etc. It’s like a colony manager, except on treads. It begins with a relatively unobtrusive tutorial that gives you the basic materials needed to get started. It teaches you how to do the basics, including taking on quests. It also teaches you how to stay alive by maintaining your mice’s hunger and your craft’s fuel. As far as tutorials go, it’s pretty painless.
After that, you’re pretty much set free to take on the wastes yourself.
As you go through the desert, you find more mice to join your crew, and later in the game the crew can even give birth to new mice, growing your team even bigger. The desert craft you pilot can be upgraded or traded up for a bigger one until you’re basically trekking the desert with a moving city filled to the brim with busy little mice.
The visuals in Of Mice and Sand -Revised- are really charming. Originally released for the Nintendo 3DS, the graphics were simple for the sake of its pick-up-and-play nature — a feature that continues onto its Nintendo Switch counterpart. This simple art style makes it immediately apparent what each room, item, and other detail is at a glance. This becomes crucial later when there are so many rooms and mice to manage that you don’t have time to figure out if that room is a lab or a kitchen.
There’s a western vibe to the game (American Western, that is). Not only are you venturing into the unknown just like the Old West, but it’s also a desert with little hobbled-together towns dotting the landscape with taverns offering freelance-type quests. It’s funny how Arc System Works gets the western feel, as the cowboy aesthetic is a strangely popular one in Japan, where the company is based. Even the music is twangy and inviting like it’s being played on a carriage in the west.
The game doesn’t take itself too seriously, and that’s where most of its charm comes from. This approach is comforting, but it may have been played too safely in Of Mice and Sand -Revised-. The lighthearted nature of the game is not something that should be changed, but it may have caused the game to lack much depth. Remember the fabled city of El Dorado? Well, the game seemed to forget about it pretty much right after you left your hometown. It focuses a lot more on your home-on-treads than finding the city. Any sort of story is told through things that you find on your journey around the desert, but even then, it doesn’t end up telling much of a fable. With the lack of storytelling and mice looking exactly the same as each other, you’re not likely to get attached to any mouse like you would with characters in a similar game like Sheltered or This War Of Mine.
Another compliment that eventually turns into a drawback is the simplicity of gameplay. The game definitely starts out easy and gets harder as you continue because of the number of mice you have to control. This isn’t a bad thing on its own. In fact, when you get into the rhythm of having every mouse working busily away as you travel from point A to point B and maintaining a perfect mobile city, it feels satisfying. But the difficulty ceiling isn’t that high, and once you hit it, the game feels like it needs a bit more to satisfy you to the end.
At times, traveling between towns can bring huge enemy attacks while you search for loot. These battles are fun, and they shake up the gameplay a bit, but what happens in between is where it starts to drag. Collecting loot is as simple as picking a destination and going about your chores. There’s nothing wrong with that, especially if you’re a colony sim fan, but a more engaging loot collecting system would have likely had players unable to put the game down.
For those who played the Nintendo 3DS version (simply titled Of Mice and Sand), the revised edition adds new events and towns/places to visit. The HD facelift the game got by moving to Nintendo Switch was handled beautifully. The game retains its pixelated nature without feeling stretched by the new resolution.
Ultimately, Of Mice and Sand -Revised- is a positively charming title. It’s a cute and entertaining world that I would love to come back to if Arc System Works could find a way to make a second trip more compelling with additional gameplay options.