What can I say about Avatar Maze Game? It’s like playing Pac-Man, except without any sense of danger or urgency at all and with enough upgrades anyone could sprint through the entire game in little to no time at all. An indie game released on 2/2/2013 by Willow Games, this game is simple in design and simple in every other way. Personally, I beat the entire game in little under an hour while I gave my PS3 a break from Ni No Kuni, then I unlocked everything and completed the game 100% in about an hour and thirty minutes. The main problem with the game is how simple it is, this is the kind of game over protective parents give their children because it’s somewhat educational with nothing bad to corrupt their little minds. So unless you have the IQ of an orangutan (wild ones, not the ones that know sign language) anyone should be able to beat this in the same amount of time I did… or less because I was watching Netflix on my laptop at the same time.
What is the story to this game? There isn’t one, just your 360 Avatar, a blue blob selling stuff at the gate, and (big spoiler) something that looks suspiciously like a deformed Boo in the last stage. Much like old school SNES Mario games, you have a large map where you move around from circle to circle, being forced to play new stages or you can replay old stages. Once you enter a stage (HUGE spoiler) you complete a maze (OMG!). However, mazes do get progressively more complicated as the player progresses, making things a little more interesting. Even if the difficulty increases just because the maze increases in size, keys for locked doors are farther away, or because the maze is so intricate, anything that can make this game more intriguing is welcomed, even if it is annoying.
To be fair though, for an indie game that isn’t a Minecraft rip off or attempts to sell sex like candy, it is very well made and does have some intriguing qualities to it. The simplicity of it does have its own charm and some effects and game mechanics are very interesting. The problem is that there is only 20 stages in this game, when puzzle games have dozens upon dozens of stages, each one more complicated than the last, in order to stump players and drag on gameplay for as long as possible. If there was more like 50 unique stages, then I would probably have a better opinion, but if it can only offer a couple hours of gameplay either way, then there is not much point.
The graphics look a lot like someone used the gradient texture effect on an assorted formation of shapes in a Word file, with an almost awkward use of the chrome texture sometimes. From the store the player can unlock 3 types of graphic packs that actually have very noticeable effects on every stage. The starter one is called normal, after beating the game the User gets the simple look, and for collecting every star the player can get carpet. There is some variety in maps though, so the player is not going through the exact same stage every time. There is the water stage, the rainbow stage, the space stage, the underground chrome stage, the chrome stage, and I think another stage… possibly with chrome. The normal graphic pack is by far the most plain and uneventful, sometimes even making it hard to play. One stage specifically took me 5 times longer than any other because the path was impossible to distinguish from the background, forcing me to run around blind in a giant maze.
However, the simple graphic option feels a lot more vibrant and bright, making things more enjoyable when I went through everything again to collect all the stars. Then you can also unlock a graphic pack called carpet, which is very different from the other two packs. It does not all look like a carpet, but it all looks textured, kind of like playing a low resolution version of Kirby’s Epic Yarn. So it’s not terrible, the bonus packs are actually very appealing visually and somewhat inventive if you can work past the normal option. I did think to myself at one point “This would be far more interesting if the background, or anything besides the avatar, was animated at least a little.” The main problem with the graphics was how stiff and boring they were, including the avatar, only 2 things in this game move at all. I understand it is a puzzle game, but with so little action it has little appeal. Popular puzzle games, like Portal, are so popular because they have mastered balancing the puzzles with entertainment and humor. There really isn’t much else to the game except a blue blob and big white blob, which look suspiciously like Boo, but they have little to no importance anyways.
The main character, as the title suggest, is your own 360 avatar. I did find this gimmick mildly charming at the start and it only wore off a little as I played through. The only problem was that it was impossible to zoom in close enough to get a good look at the avatar and most the time you are zoomed out so far it is difficult to see the avatar at all. Still, it does provide a small thrill running your avatar around like a rat in a maze. Watching my little avatar, in a halo helmet and Darksiders 2 t-shirt, was very bewildering to behold and can only become more entertaining with more creative avatars.
I was actually surprised by how good the music was, very well done piano and light techno pieces that actually worked with the game really well. The well balanced combination of keyboard and techno really creates a unique atmosphere that does not overpower the senses and simply becomes aggravating as the player progresses. So you could play for the entire two hours it takes to win and listen to a calm melody with a good rhythm the entire time. Of course, not far into the game it occurred to me that the music was just looping and that I had heard it already. However, the variety of pieces is not very expansive but there are at least a few of them in total, just enough to keep things fresh (mostly because of the short length of the game).
There really is nothing else to note here, you have the background music and that is about all there is. I did feel I should note the point in the game when I become the most engaged, or engaged at all really. In the final stage, for the first time, you hear something besides the background music or general effect sounds. You hear, wait for it, the sound of a monster calling out! The moment I heard that noise I paused Netflix in a ‘WTF?!’ moment and hoped that I had finally found my Inky, Blinky, Pinky, and Clyde (actually, f#%k Clyde). Alas, twas only 1 horribly disfigured Boo with only enough mental capacity to sit in my way.
You go around a big maze looking for the heart, aka the exit, and that’s the game in a nut shell. Sometimes there is a door, maximum 3 doors, with little keys hidden somewhere in the maze you need to open them. In a lot of the stages you aren’t even required to open more than 1 or 2 doors, so it’s not really complicated. Simple right? Well it gets even easier because you can buy upgrades from the shop using the ton of coins you pick up in each stage. On my first play through I just bought all the speed upgrades and an upgrade that lets you zoom out to view more of the maze, at some point I was able to to see nearly the entire maze and run around like the Road Runner on crank. The more upgrades I got the easier it got, until I was focused more on Workaholics on Netflix and playing the game with one hand (which I also found ironic after I was done).
One major problem with the game is how much money you can get, at first I struggled to get coins but after only a couple coin multipliers I was upgrading constantly. For a game as simple as this the last thing it needs is to become even simpler and even if the coin/upgrade ratio was better it still wouldn’t make much of a difference with enough upgrades.
One well done part of gameplay, that actually adds any kind of replay value to this game at all, is the star pickups. Each stage, except the last one, has 3 stars you must find. However, and this is the well designed part, most stars are blocked off by various barriers you need upgrades from the store to get past. Without the upgrades it is possible to get about 1/3 of the stars, then after my first play through I had enough coins to buy all the upgrades and sprinted through the game in no time. It was kind of worth it, I was able to unlock the carpet graphic pack which was mildly amusing, but since I had already completed everything there was no point for me to play anymore.
Overall, when I play this I am reminded of a simpler time, a time when I was forced to watch my youngest brother play Elmo and Blues Clues on the PS1. However, for an indie game it is good and very well put together, a little more expanding and complexity would do wonders for it, but that’s why it is an indie game. For all its simplicity it did have a number of charming points though that made me keep playing through to the end. I especially enjoyed the ability to run my avatar around on the rainbow road, if I was in a go cart (or running any faster) I would be singing its praises to the moon.
The graphics are engaging after a certain point, the music is unique and fun to zone out to, and the gameplay can be at least a little interesting until the player just upgrades everything. Do I recommend this game? It’s 80 MS points so what the hell, let your avatar out for some fresh air and work your mind on something that doesn’t require you to point and shoot everything in sight, you may be surprised and find it harder than you think. Personally, I can’t wait to keep playing Ni No Kuni, but unlike me, my PS3 does need a break every now and then.