I'm a little ashamed to reveal this, but I had never played a Lucas Pope game until now. Yes, I know that his games are praised for years now, but it never felt the right time to do it. Papers, Please has an amazing concept, but the theme was too heavy for what was happening in my real life in the past years. And I still want some vacation days to only dedicate on solving Return of the Obra Dinn's puzzles. Who knew that the Playdate would be the place where I would finally discover by myself how amazing is his work?

Mars After Midnight

That said, Mars After Midnight isn't exactly you expect from a Pope's creation. From his own words, this game is "a little more light-hearted, something his kids might like". It uses the core idea of Papers, Please of being the one behind a door, but puts you as the host of a Community Support Center. For aliens, in Mars. You have to plan the sessions every night, accept only the right martians inside and even manage the free food table you have as refreshments to the attendees.

This three-part mechanical loop is the core of Mars After Midnight, and the main bit is the process of seeing aliens and trying to find the right ones for tonight's session. Depending of what you planned, you may want different martians attending — only sad cyclopes or only the ones with cracked skulls, for example — and you use the Playdate's crank to open the little hatch to see more of the candidates. This can feel a small job for the crank that is so talked about, but it's the perfect one. There isn't a lot of depth in here (like you would expect in Papers, Please), but it's so fun to play that I always ended up with a smile.

Mars After Midnight

Truly, I love how Mars After Midnight is silly even on the gameplay, and I don't mean in a bad way. All the aliens are strange but friendly, and half of the sessions requires "special equipment" that can be used with the B button (like a magnifying glass to see which tiny bugs actually have a knife). In one of the levels, they give me a horn and I passed 30 minutes just pressing the button and showing everyone THAT I HAVE A HORN. I'm the idiot person that goes to the pet shop and squeeze every dog toy so I can make sound, so, yeah, my wife got really mad because of the horn but I was very happy.

The other parts of the gameplay aren't that silly, but they work as intended. After you accept an alien, they can eat the free food and your job is to clean and re-arrange the plates for next creature, like a simpler Hanoi Tower puzzle. And after a level is finished, you can choose what to do in the next day, planning the session, where to put posters to promote it in the colony and what will be the refreshments. And then, you repeat this cycle until you can help all the martians.

Mars After Midnight

The best way to enjoy what Mars After Midnight can offer is definitely in small sessions, because the gameplay can feel really repetitive if you tried to do five or six nights at once. The lack of a more complex plot also doesn't help, and even the funny moments can get a little boring if seen in one go. But the game was perfect to play in breaks during a job day: sending aliens to the air with a giant spring is always what I need after a boring and complicated meeting. At the end, using those martians as serotonin pills was more effective then trying to help everyone in only one afternoon.

Even without a deep story, this game is so charismatic that looking into the details to appreciating them is the best way to experience Mars After Midnight. From the alien speech that you learn during the levels, to the dreams that our protagonists have after a night of work and the details at the back of the street... Even on the small screen of Playdate, it was good to help those Martians, however necessary.

I don't know yet who loved more this game: my inner child who laughs like an idiot at a horn, or the tired adult that liked the breaks in a work day to help some martians. Lucas Pope's ability of transforming a boring job into an interesting game is still amazing, and even if there isn't the same depth of his past games, the light-hearted premise made it an unique experience. If you have a Playdate and a silly game catches your attention, Mars After Midnight is a must-play.

This review was only possible by the access provided by Panic and the Playdate team to this game, available at the Catalog. Thanks for the trust!