39 Days to Mars, the first game by publisher and developer It's Anecdotal, is a uniquely whimsical puzzle-adventure game that sets players in the 19th century. If the title of the game wasn't clear, the overall goal of 39 Days to Mars is for players to board a steam-powered ship and head off to Mars. There's a catch with this game, however, as it's built from the ground up to encourage local cooperative play to solve various puzzles as main characters Sir Albert Wickes and Clarence Baxter make their way to Mars. This is a system that adds to the game's odd charm, but it's short length may have players wishing for more.
39 Days to Mars begins on Earth, tasking players with solving various puzzles like constructing a map and using elaborate fishing tactics to grab keys. It's all a nice prelude for what to expect once the actual adventure begins. To solve these various puzzles, players must work together, each controlling a cursor or character to complete challenges. If you and your friend or family member aren't totally synchronized, failure is assured. Of course, there is a single-player option but controlling both cursors at once on an Xbox controller can be a confusing endeavor. It's clear that the best way to play 39 Days to Mars is with someone else.
The puzzles in 39 Days to Mars are quite ingenious in their execution and no two challenges are exactly alike. Well, other than making Albert and Clarence different levels of hot tea between puzzles. It's good to know that, even with the ship potentially falling apart, there's still time for a cup of tea between friends. It's this kind of charm that makes 39 Days to Mars such a worthwhile adventure, along with the game's challenging but fun cooperative gameplay mechanics. Plus, there's even a boss battle toward the end with a giant space squid that, while slightly repetitive, is probably the game's best use of cooperative mechanics, requiring one player to tether the other to a rope so they can fight its legs with an umbrella.
It's just too bad that none of it lasts very long. Even two novices with no grasp of 39 Days to Mars' mechanics or what it has to offer could probably complete the game in just a couple short hours. More professional players could easily complete it in under an hour. This is perhaps the biggest disappointment of the game, leaving more frugal players wondering if the $15 price tag is really worth it. Sure, there is something of replay value, as players can try to complete puzzles faster and more efficiently or try their hand at beating it alone.
If you're looking for a game to play at home with loved ones in a unique setting populated by two charming Englishmen protagonists, 39 Days to Mars is definitely the right choice for you. Looking past its shortcomings in the length department, players will be able to happily lose themselves in the Victorian era adventure of taking a steam ship to Mars. It helps that the game, while nothing overly special graphically, is at least nice to look at and the musical tones that accompany each part are as whimsical as almost every other aspect of the adventure. Plus, It's Anecdotal is a company with one developer in Philip Buchanan, so the fact that 39 Days to Mars is complex or fun at all is a great sign of the passion that was put into the game.
39 Days to Mars is available now on Steam, Nintendo Switch and Xbox One for $14.99. An Xbox One copy was provided to Screen Rant for the purposes of this review.