Review: Mazes & Mages25 Jun 2018 0
Review: Mazes & Mages
Released 15 Jun 2018
Mazes and Mages is not a good game. It fails to be challenging or engaging or entertaining past a handful of minutes. The core concepts are tired and trite. It’s ugly and utterly devoid of personality. The perfect Game Jam concept or developer prototype, but it belongs nowhere near a storefront in this state.
You play the titular Mage, one can presume. The blue Fantasia hat suggests so. Your objective? To navigate seemingly endless levels of mazes for some reason. Littered in these labyrinths are monsters, all of which would very much like you stop you from your journey. They’re patient, though, standing around and waiting for you to come to them like Heroes of Might and Magic villains. There’s a strategic element to choosing which ones to clear, because some are blocking paths to a treasure chest or a presumable exit.
The map itself is bland. A handful of greys try desperately to create a sense of textural dynamics between the walls and floor The walls themselves are plain chains of simple brick patterns that do the job they’re given and literally nothing else. There’s also way too much map to explore, made more noticeable by how old and drab this layout is. You might spend 5-10 minutes running in circles looking for a key and its corresponding door because there are no indicators to tell you if your hot or cold when searching for these items.
Bobbing menacingly are the monster icons, notated by a skull head and a demon face. The movement gives them a little more personality, but even that is stiff and awkward. There’s also no great explanation of the difference between them. In battle, one isn’t particularly different than the other. At lower levels - marked by the number below the head - the demons seem to be stronger, but after slaying a few, and gathering some strength of your own, they’re all just equal fodder.
When you finally move to confront one of these beasts, you’re whisked away to a rudimentary card table. Ugly squares flanking a middle character tile (in even more grey shades) denote where cards can be played. Below that is your hand of playable cards. The character tile keeps track of your life and mana.
From there, you’re playing Hearthstone. Every turn, your maximum mana level rises, and you spend it on creatures and spells to bring your opponent's life total down to zero. Every monster has a randomly generated deck, and different life totals, but none of them have any brains or tactical acumen whatsoever.
They often make moves that could never have been smart good calls, attacking your creatures when it would have been beneficial to strike at you, for example. In fact, even though there are options to target everything on the field, it’s almost never beneficial to do so. Most of my battles involved me setting a creature down and pressing auto battle.
Even if a monster does beat you, you just go back to the map screen, and get another opportunity to kill it. There’s not real consequence to losing, except the loss of your time. Which might be offensive enough.
Something else that might offend your sensibilities are the cards themselves. They have the health and power numbers you can expect from a Hearthstone clone. They have basic skills, Fantasy 101 names like “Kobald” and “Centaur.” What they don’t have us any art whatsoever. Replacing what should be a portrait of a creature hero posing or in battle are squiggly lines in indescribable patterns.
It’s almost unheard of to think a of a collectable card game modelling itself off of contemporaries like Magic the Gathering and having no card art whatsoever. It may seem like a small thing, but most of a player’s understanding about a game’s world comes from what they see on the cards. Rad character portraits or vicious monster art really sells the lethality of a card mechanically, when done right. Even if the art isn’t as existentially unnerving as Kev Walkers or as impressionistic and avant garde as Greg Staples, it can still add some much needed spice to a dry game. Mazes and Mages is wholly flavorless.
The art serves another purpose, of course: allowing you to find specific cards easily. When rummaging through the deck editor, it’s not uncommon to stare at the contents for way too many seconds just to get a baseline understanding of what you’re looking at. Yes, there are various other identifiers to find the cards you want, but the biggest parts of that cards are these abstract line drawings. With rows of them next to each other, searching for one card can feel like paging through an eldritch tome.
Moving cards in and out of your deck is unnecessarily clunky, too. There is a minimum number of cards you can have in a deck - a common rule in card games. But the editor doesn’t let you drop below that amount ever. Building a deck from scratch often means finding a work around. Mine involved writing a wish list out on a piece of paper and checking off the cards as they reached their allowable limits. Similar games also restrict you from adding cards above the allowed amount each, but none of them restrict you from starting from zero and building a deck to the minimum. It’s a barrier that makes deck editing such a pain that you stop doing it altogether.
Speaking of making pain stop, I would finally give up on this game a couple hours and multiple attempts at trying to pull something valuable from it. A feat that is utterly impossible.