Welcome to May! This month we celebrate the top ten mazes found in video games! Can you think of any mazes that should also be included? Leave me a comment!
10) 3D Maze Screensaver (Windows ’95)
Lines that bounced when they hit the edge of the screen, dots that made you feel like you’re flying through space, and 3D pipes that wrapped around themselves in an endless cycle of knots – these were just a few of the computer screensavers that enthralled us as kids. None of them, however, engaged us quite as much as the Windows ’95 3D Maze screensaver. Do you remember the first time you saw it? It’s not even a game but it FELT like a game. The world drew you in as you silently rooted for the unseen protagonist to reach the end while avoiding dead ends and the occasional rat. At times, we were tempted to take control but had to show great restraint in knowing that one touch of an arrow key would disable the animation. So, we sat, we watched, we cheered. For those of us who didn’t yet have a game like Doom or Wolfenstein, this was our best alternative!
9) The Houses of Fester’s Quest (NES 1989)
In the late 80’s, the developer Sunsoft decided that Fester of the Addams family needed to face off against an army of alien invaders. Why? Why Fester? Were they looking for a famous face to attach to the game to help its marketability? Were the Addams family particularly popular during this time? I feel like they could have released this game with a random character and it might have done just as well. Or not… The difficulty is immense and, if I remember correctly, there’s a major lack of a password system. You have to play this game in one sitting! If any game needs a remake, Fester’s Quest is the one because it totally *could* be a good game. Flaws aside, one part that always stuck out to me were the “house” sections. For the most part, Fester’s Quest is framed from an overhead perspective where you’d guide the famous uncle around the screen as he blasted strange creatures. But, when you’d enter certain places that housed the alien bosses, the music would stop, and you’d suddenly be in a black and white hallway in a first-person perspective. The shift in tone was unsettling. Were they trying to build up suspense? The mazes weren’t particularly difficult, but I remember feeling totally disoriented trying to navigate these sections. In fact, this might have been my first experience ever playing a game in this way. Once you found the door to the boss, the perspective would change back to the overhead view, and it would just be you vs the alien against a black background. No other parts of the game were like this, so these mazes have always stuck out to me when thinking back to my time with Fester’s Quest.
8) The Lost Woods in The Legend of Zelda (NES 1986)
Admit it. The first time you played this game, you spent a long time wandering the lost woods before realizing that the screen was just repeating over and over again. What was happening? For many of us, the original Legend of Zelda was too cryptic for our young minds, and solving a puzzle like the lost woods meant overhearing a rumor about it from some kids on the bus ride home from school. How else would we know to burn certain bushes or play the flute near a pond? If you did happen to get a clue in the game, I hope you had a notebook nearby. Eventually, you’d stumble upon someone who told you how to get through the lost woods. But with clues like “Eastmost Peninsula is the secret” and “Dodongo dislikes smoke,” you might still be left bewildered. Not to mention, the actual clue that you find is riddled with translation errors: “Go north, west, south, west to the forest of maze.” Thanks, lady.
7) The Hedge Maze in Zombies Ate My Neighbors (SNES 1993)
Fun fact: the same developer that brought you classic games like Maniac Mansion, The Secret of Monkey Island, and Super Star Wars also gifted the world with Zombies Ate My Neighbors! LucasArts was known for making some pretty quirky games, and the B-movie premise of ZAMN fits right in with the rest of them. There’s even an appearance of Purple Tentacle in a Day of the Tentacle-theme bonus level. You play as teenagers Zeke or Julie armed with an arsenal of water guns, soda cans, and ice pops as you fend off an onslaught of classic movie monsters. Amidst the chaos, you are also tasked with rescuing your neighbors who apparently are continuing to lounge in their pools or practice their cheer routine out in the open. The fourth level puts you in a giant hedgemaze while trying to avoid masked men straight out of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I hated this level, and I’m certain it ended many of my sessions. Thankfully, masked chainsaw men are easily distracted by decoys that look like clowns, and the hedge itself can be blown apart by a shot from a bazooka – just like in real life!
6) The Labyrinths of Breath of the Wild (Wii U/Switch 2017)
One of Breath of the Wild’s greatest strengths is its ability to pique your curiosity. In the first hour of the game, it teaches you to climb to high places and then search your surroundings for areas of interest. When you see something you know you want to explore, you can then place a beacon on that spot to help guide you to that location. During my playthrough, I found myself marking tall mountains, old buildings, or unusual vegetation. Traveling to these destinations always took three times longer than I had anticipated because at each turn, I was finding myself wanting to explore new places that needed investigation. On one such excursion, I reached the edge of a large cliff along the coastline. I stopped to gaze across the ocean only to be greeted by something I had only seen in fantasy movies: a great labyrinth! I tried to fly there but I didn’t yet have enough stamina to reach it. I thought I could get there by boat, but my flimsy craft wouldn’t allow it. The game TEASED me with this massive structure, and I would have to wait many, many hours before I could finally explore it for myself. Getting there is another story, but I’ll always remember the sense of wonder that the labyrinth gave me upon seeing it far off in the distance.
5) Chip’s Challenge (Windows ’95 1989)
Made popular in the Microsoft Entertainment Pack 4 for Windows ’95, Chip’s Challenge stood out amongst Rodent’s Revenge, SkiFree, and JezzBall as one of the few progressive puzzle games from the early days of Windows gaming. Did you know the game had a plot? The story, according to Wikipedia, states that “high-school nerd Chip McCallahan has met Melinda the Mental Marvel in the school science laboratory and must navigate through Melinda’s ‘Clubhouse,’ a series of increasingly difficult puzzles, in order to prove himself and gain membership to the very exclusive Bit Busters Club.” I had no idea! Did Rodent’s Revenge and SkiFree have deep plots as well? (They don’t – but please make one up in the comments!). Anyway, many of the levels in Chip’s Challenge were maze-like in nature and racked your brain as you navigated new types of terrain. Back then, if I wanted some quick fun, I’d play a game or two of Rattler Race, but if I wanted a challenge, then I always came back to Chip! Now, I’m just waiting for Dale’s Challenge.
4) King Sandybutt’s Tomb of Gobi’s Valley in Banjo Kazooie (N64 1998)
I’ve never been a huge fan of desert worlds in games. Super Mario 64 had Shifting Sand Land, Ocarina of Time had the Hyrule Desert, and Banjo Kazooie had Gobi’s Valley (for an example of a GREAT desert game, see Journey for PS3). Gobi’s Valley (seemingly named after a camel who must have done something really special to have an entire valley named after him) is certainly leagues above its counterpart in Super Mario 64. In their quest for Jiggies, Banjo and Kazooie must explore the tomb of King Sandybutt. Upon entering, you are given a warning: Turn back or face his wrath! His wrath, apparently, is to make you navigate a maze in 60 seconds or you’ll be crushed by the ceiling. Kind of a lame wrath if you ask me. I mean, even the Brendan Fraser Mummy could command an army of the dead or control a giant sandstorm. If you manage to complete the maze within the time limit, you are awarded with the “King’s Ancient Relic.” What could it be?? A golden crown? An ancient tome of lost secrets? A magical gem? Nope. It’s just a jiggie. Guh huh!
3) Co-Op Rat Race in Portal 2 (PC/MAC 2011)
Easily my favorite co-op experience of all time (with a fantastic single player story, too), Portal 2 takes the zany puzzle-solving antics of the first game and and adds a second (p)layer. Some of my favorite moments included using a portal to suddenly change the direction of a teammate who had been hurled into the air, timing the launch of a cube so my teammate could catch it in midair, and “accidentally” causing the destruction of a friend just to see them fail. Many of the puzzles required thinking several steps ahead in order for everything to work in the end. By far, the puzzle that topped this experience for me was when one player was sent into a maze while the second player watches from afar. The player watching the maze runner has access to two buttons that will either raise or lower platforms inside the labyrinth. Clear communication is necessary for survival. One small mistake will send your teammate into spikes. I have yet to see a multiplayer experience like this since Portal 2. The “We Were Here” series on Steam comes close, but the creative puzzle solving elements of the Portal games forced me to wrap my mind around uniquely complex concepts. If I couldn’t solve something right away, well, in the words of Back to the Future’s Doc Brown, I am reminded that I’m “not thinking fourth-dimensionally!”
2) Tunnel Runner (Atari 2600 1983)
Tunnel Runnel had us navigating first-person mazes long before the perspective was commonplace in games like Wolfenstein 3D and Doom. I first learned about this game a few months ago while doing research for my lists. I couldn’t believe this game existed! At first glance, it reminded me of a combination of the house sections from Fester’s Quest and the mazes of Faceball 2000 (originally MIDI Maze on the Atari ST in 1987) for the Super Nintendo (1991). In fact, I wonder if Faceball/Midi Maze was inspired by this game. Both games featured mazes, and both games featured giant floating heads. Most games on the Atari were emulating single-screen arcade games of the time like Pac-Man, Space Invaders, and Frogger. Fewer games yet featured screens that transitioned into other areas (like Pitfall, E.T., and Indiana Jones). Tunnel Runner seamlessly gave the illusion that you were navigating a maze from the first-person perspective. Additionally, you were equipped with a map to help you along your way. If you’ve never played it, give it a try! I found it to be oddly addicting.
Really Inside The Claw Machine Level from Toy Story (SNES 1995)
Hover (Windows ’95 1995)
Faceball 2000 (SNES 1991)
1) The Mine Cart Section in Myst (PC 1993)
Myst is one of the only games where I’ve had to take handwritten notes (apart from the original Zelda) in order to finish it. Back before we had access to an endless supply of online resources, if you wanted to remember something in a game, you kept a notebook nearby. In some ways, I kind of miss this style of gaming, but truthfully, I no longer have the time (or patience) to play games in this way. Anyway, in Myst, there’s a section where you have to navigate a series of tunnels in an automated mine cart. When you enter this area, all you’re given is a cardinal direction display and the ability to move left, right, forward or backward. Every area looks exactly the same with no clues to tell you where to go. So, trial and error! If I hadn’t drawn a map, there’s no way I would have gotten through this section. On a related note, I’ve recently been watching interviews with one of the game’s creators, Rand Miller. His thoughtful incite into the creation of Myst made me appreciate it all the more. Check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EWX5B6cD4_4&t=1084s
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