Remember Gauntlet? Maze Blaze is a distant cousin, twice-removed. If you’ve been hankering for some cooperative maze-clearing, albeit without any barbarians or accidentally shooting the food, then Maze Blaze is going to deliver.
For any non-Gauntlet devotees, Maze Blaze is a roguelike set in a series of humongous mazes. There’s no story needed here: you are some kind of mech that’s rolled in from a Gundam cartoon, and you’re exterminating other robots and mechs on the way to an exit. Then it’s onto the next maze, and the harder, faster, stronger robots that dwell there. Before long, you’re staring an ‘Admiral’ in the face, the run’s boss, and completing loop after loop to prove your prowess.
It’s all to-the-point and simple. There are some nobbles in the form of collectibles, which is really where Maze Blaze’s heart is. Commonly, you will find bullet types which immediately slot into your gun and transform your next few volleys. There’s no managing of ammo or switching ammo types out: it’s an immediate and temporary boost that means you’re firing round corners or ricocheting bullets through multiple corridors.
Then there are consumables which can be activated when you fancy them. They are grenades (fired through walls, so you can make some advanced progress), shields and health packs, and they’re all handy in clutch situations.
Finally – and the clincher – are artifacts. You will only get one or two of these in a level, but you should do everything you can to search them out. They apply permanently to your character, and you have a maximum of twelve of these at any given time. They are game-changers, frankly, and range from simple multipliers to life points, rate of fire and attack, all the way to remixing your character, offering benefits like explosives whenever you use a shield, or one-hit kills on your gun.
What makes these unusual is their initial presentation. Find an artifact, and you’ve got two choices for what it will do. Except you don’t know what either choice is: they’re written in what looks like Klingon, so you’ve got to pick and hope. But come across the same artifcact in the next run, and the language will be translated, so you can pick with a bit more knowledge.
It’s the artifact system that keeps this otherwise rudimentary little roguelike trucking along. The compulsion to collect all artifacts is indeed compelling (not least because of the associated achievement), mainly because they’re powerful enough to get you sitting up at bed at night, contemplating synergies that might make you unstoppable.
In fact, it’s entirely possible to become too unstoppable. There are two modes in Maze Blaze – a campaign-like Adventure mode, and an Endless survival-like mode – and we reached a point where we couldn’t be beaten. Endless mode couldn’t throw up a challenge strong enough to take us down, simply because we were clearing room after room in a singly flurry of bullets. The poor robots didn’t have a chance. Which is a negative, mostly, but for a level or two we felt rather good about it.
Exploration and combat is what you’ll be spending your time doing in Maze Blaze, much like Gauntlet of old. Turn a corner and enemies will flash, signaling their awareness of you, and a gang of five or six of them will start winging their way to you. There are melee robots and ranged robots, and there are variants within those two categories: some strong, some glass cannons. They change up to a reasonable degree over the levels, but after a few runs they become overly familiar. Some minibosses and differing behaviours would have gone down a treat.
What Maze Blaze does do well is leverage its arenas to vary the experience. Every corridor has a colour, and that colour means something. A blue corridor is your bog standard variant, and doesn’t have any rules applied, but a pink corridor will boost your speed; a green corridor will start dealing poison damage if you’re not quick; and a black corridor turns the lights out, giving you – at best – a few squares’ worth of vision, making it incredibly hard to anticipate that bionic jellyfish who is aggressively cuddling your face. And it’s impossible to get lost, as dead-ends shutter once you’ve explored them, so you won’t accidentally traverse them twice.
The downside of a maze, at least one as grid-based as this, is that they can become incredibly samey, quickly. Maze Blaze falls foul of this. While it’s got a few tricks in its locker, like the corridor colours, it’s still a maze that you could draw out on some square paper, albeit with a few enemies tossed in. Once you’ve turned a dozen corners, you’ve seen pretty much everything that Maze Blaze has to offer, and it is most definitely its biggest foible. With more budget, and this game to build on top of, you can imagine more elaborate mazes that would hold back boredom for longer. As it stands, you’ve probably got two to three hours of enjoyment before you look at the walls and realise they’re stale.
It feels like it’s time for the public service announcement, too. When you move in Maze Blaze, the margins of the screen fall and rebuild themselves, like someone is constructing it out of LEGO in real-time. It’s constant movement on the screen, and – at least in our partner’s case, who had to leave the room rather than watch it – it can hurt the eyes. If you have sensitivities in this area, you might want to watch a trailer and see if it’s going to bother you.
But for all that, we had a blast for those two-to-three hours, both single-player and cooperatively with another player. Sure, the repetitive mazes got creaky near-immediately, but the twinkly neon lights, crunchy combat and absolutely top notch artifact system papered over the cracks. At least for a bit.
Last time we played Maze Blaze we thought we’d never play it again. We’d translated most of the game’s artifacts, and the levels weren’t inspiring us like they used to. But, waking up this morning, we felt the tug to play it again. It’s that kind of game. While we didn’t quite get there, there’s every possibility you could get Maze Blaze Crazed.
You can buy Maze Blaze from the Xbox Store