Sometimes the simplest concept can make for an utterly addictive and engaging virtual experience. From Wii Sports to Angry Birds, the original Mario Bros. to the Mario Party series, there have been plenty of games that have bridged the gap from casual to advanced players, and it all starts at how accessible and universal the concept at the core of the game is. In comes Maze, a game about, you guessed it, mazes. On paper, the idea of navigating and exploring a collection of labyrinths while platforming and gathering coins sounds like it could make for wholesome entertainment. Unfortunately, TreeFall Studios - the developer of The Letter - has constructed another game that lacks sensible execution. In other words, Maze certainly isn't a-maze-ing.
On a positive note, Maze is a much more inviting game than The Letter. Even if the same generic and ugly assets are present this time around, there's a better sense of production and understanding of the necessary elements of a video game – menus, options, save functions, and an actual reason to play. That's right, unlike The Letter, Maze is actually built around a gameplay concept and features legitimate – though very limited – elements that persist throughout the adventure. It's not exactly the most layered or complex design out there, but it is - nevertheless - an improvement over the studios' previous work. It at least proves that it's listening to and / or learning from the criticisms of its previous effort, which is absolutely welcome.
The problem, however, is that Maze just isn't much fun to play. It starts out being harmless enough, but as soon as precision platforming and nonsensical level design show up, any chance of enjoyment is pretty much out the window. On top of that, there are some visual design choices that are, putting it lightly, disorienting – like a maze made of bright coloured panels that intermittently change colour. We cannot stress enough just how off-putting some of the colours and patterns can be; in the second world we ran into a set of stages that instilled a horrible case of motion sickness in both of us that played it. It was so bad that the console had to be booted down for the day and returned to at a later time. We should also disclose that the neither of us have a history of getting ill from playing video games. When swinging the camera around, we even noticed an effect that makes the environment bend and expand as if you're looking through a fisheye lens. It's tough to stomach.
With each stage containing 10 coins to hunt and gather, and many of them being tucked away in extremely out-of-the-way places, finding your way to the exit of the maze - let alone collecting things - can be a major grind; that is accounting for the fact that we're talking about the core concept. And yes, you have to get all 10 coins to advance. It should also be said that you're limited to walking and jumping, so once hazards present themselves your means of protection boil down to simply avoiding them. It doesn't help that the controls are incredibly unwieldy; not only do you move very slowly in general, but turning from side to side is even more sluggish. When you're desperately trying to locate every coin in a narrow maze to quickly make your way out, it's as though you can't adjust your view fast enough to align with each new corridor. Then, when the level design presents very large spaces without many obstacles, it feels like you're crawling to get to where you need to be.
Outside of the single player mode, which makes up the bulk of the package, Maze has local multiplayer and an arcade option. Multiplayer can be semi-entertaining for a couple of matches, but the limited number of stages, along with the fact that starting points and coin placements didn't seem to be randomized, really diminishes the chance of it retaining any lasting appeal. Arcade mode presents a couple of okay stages, loaded with 20 coins instead of 10, and asks you to gather them all in a set amount of time. Both of these modes feel tacked on and unsubstantial, seemingly existing for the sake of making the package appear more robust. For the asking price, ultimately, there's a respectable amount of content here, so that's not at all the problem.
It's clear that Maze is a much more cared about project than The Letter, but unfortunately the final product is far from impressive. There are some things to commend, like the amount of environmental diversity for example, though when the mechanics are sloppy and movements can trigger wooziness, it's hard to see past the negatives to care about the positives. And besides, at its very best, Maze doesn't really ever advance beyond mediocre territory.
While it's immediately and undeniably clear that Maze is an improvement over The Letter, that doesn't mean it amounts to all that much. With generic assets and a lack of tactful design, along with plenty of other poor and questionable areas of production, there's nothing here that's all that compelling. We genuinely like the idea of a game filled with bite-sized mazes to explore, and we think such a universal concept such as this could make for a delightful downloadable escape, but this effort just doesn't deliver the goods. Get lost in something else on the eShop instead.