Crystal Maze was cool, this is a simple fact. So cool that when it appeared in the awful film version of Dungeons and Dragons it made one scene almost cool. For those not old enough to remember, or born in an area that wasn’t in the UK, the Crystal Maze was a game show which featured Richard O’Brian, who wrote The Rocky Horror Show. He led a band of men and women around a disturbingly well designed set in a studio featuring; Aztec Zone, Industrial Zone, Medieval Zone and Future Zone. In each zone various challenges were submitted in different rooms and with that came a time limit, if said contestant lost or ran out of time they were locked in the room until their team mates deemed their life valuable enough to warrant sacrificing some of the game shows money to buy back their pathetic existence.
What might be obvious at this stage is that I loved that show, it captured my young imagination and boy did I want to appear on it. I always felt that I would be the dictator of the group and would sacrifice all of my team mates for the greater good if they did not complete their challenges.
Man in a Maze is an odd mixture of The Crystal Maze and The Running Man. Published by Chillingo and developed by SmallGreenHill this game sees you take the role of Chuck. And although the title of the game implies you are a man there is a sadistic artist somewhere who made your character look like a school boy. This makes the game take a darker turn.
In Man in a Maze you are given a top down perspective of an area, as part of some disturbing game show, no doubt in the not to distant future, you are tasked with using twin stick controls to manoeuvre your avatar around the field of play picking up gems. Once obtained a door opens leading you to the next puzzle. The reason I say puzzle is because this is not a simple collect and run affair. You need to avoid robots, turrets and other devious devices that stand in your way. All are on a set path around the hedgerows of the maze and this is the challenge. You can die. If a stray bullet or robot hits you then the level resets meaning you need to pick everything up once again, this is probably a metaphor for “you can’t take it with you”, that or I’m expecting too much from my iOS games.
Arrogance is a bigger enemy than the robots in this game. On many occasions I’ll think “I could fit a Ford Mondeo through that gap” as I make my school boy run past a robot only to be hit my 20,000 volts of death. This game needs you to watch for patterns and timings as you run along, being a game though it does time and grade you on your pace.
I tell people I hate stealth in games, however this is just the short answer to an unasked question. What I hate is misuse of stealth in an action game. Games like Splinter Cell and Metal Gear can are great fun, I’m a sucker for sitting and working out guards shift patterns and toilet requirements and then using security’s bowel movements against them. It’s games like GTA or FPS’s that shoe horn it in that make me want to attack them with a rusty spoon.
Man in a Maze has a lot of levels, and as you progress you meet traps and more annoying robots each with their own set of skills to make you want to smash your iPad into dust. Chuck is armed with a tennis ball, which at certain points can be turned into an impromptu Tennis Ball Bomb. With the right stick you can whip the ball like an angry John McEnroe. The ability to freeze robots and lay mines are unlocked as you progress through the mind-boggling number of levels.
I feel uneasy with the background plot of the game, the Buzz style cheesy host and light-hearted nature are juxtaposed with the brutal murder of what appears to be a small child and the knowledge that he is the 23rd contestant means that there were 22 before him who I can only presume didn’t fare well in the game. This game however has a sense of humour that supersedes the black underbelly. The silly prizes for completing a level are clever jokes including “Knives so sharp they could cut the hind leg off a frozen pig” or a set of Blu-Rays called “The Life of Puffins”.
Man in a maze is a game that crosses genres, with a mix of stealth, action and stress this is the first game I have played in a long time that has amazing pick up and play ability without being yet another endless runner game. With well thought out levels, clever design and controls that actually work with virtual dual sticks I cannot recommend this enough. A brilliant cross between Splinter Cell and Pac-Man, this is a thinking man’s iPad game.
+Clever use of stealth
-The grinning face of Chuck will haunt you
+One of the cheeriest soundtracks on iPad
-The sounds do repeat level so they will grate eventually