Monster Robot Studios have set their sights upon Nintendo’s famous action/adventure title The Legend of Zelda with their recently released Mazes and Monsters (out now, $0.99). Unfortunately the game – while showing some promise – is going to need some heavy patching before it’s truly ready for Prime Time, especially in matters related to Mazes and Monster’s controls. Please keep in mind as your read this review that it is the job of a reviewer to cover games in their current state of functionality, not as they might hopefully one day become if/when patches release.
ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO a GREAT MAGICIAN sealed ALL THE EVILS OF THE WORLD into a CRYSTAL, but a CENTURY LATER it is up to his GREAT GRANDSON to find ALL OF THE CRYSTAL’S PIECES and PUT THEM BACK TOGETHER after it is SHATTERED by a MYSTERIOUS MAN. Yes – while I have paraphrased and condensed this some for the purpose of saving space – the game’s text really does that old school thing were bits are completely capitalized, a nice nod to the era of gameplay being mimicked. As you might have guessed from the way that Mazes and Monsters has chosen to explain its story, this isn’t exactly an adventure where plot matters much and instead is merely an excuse for the dungeon exploration to commence.
With the plot now covered, Mazes and Monsters is – as I previously mentioned – very heavily based on the flip-screen style dungeon exploration gameplay of the very first Legend of Zelda game. Players will explore various dungeons comprised of a series of interlocking rooms – each precisely the size of an iOS unit’s screen – in search of the crystal shards located at the endpoint of each, occasionally solving sliding block puzzles along the way. What Mazes and Monsters does not feature is a connected playable over world that allows gamers to directly explore in search of these places – instead having towns and dungeons selectable directly from a map – which, unfortunately, excises a hefty chunk of the explorative wonder that makes up each Legend of Zelda title.
Speaking of the aforementioned towns, I call them that only because Mazes and Monsters itself does. It’s hard to call a location a town when it contains little more than a single shop – a mini-game – and one NPC with a quest to go back to a dungeon you have already solved to find an item they lost, and sometimes less than even that. That said, despite the rather pronounced lack of people in them – it still generally pays to look around these ‘towns’ as treasure chests containing life-bar expanding hearts tend to be hidden in them.
Now before I touch on the dungeons in Mazes and Monsters, I would first like to tackle both the controls of the game and some of the issues I – and others, according to some discussion threads – have had in trying to use them. The game features an on screen analog control stick capable of motion in all 360 degrees – coupled with speed sensitivity – as well as an A and B button, with primary weapons equipped to one and various other tools being equipped to the other. Of noteworthy interest here is that Mazes and Monsters has a configuration option that will let the player place each of the three pieces of the control scheme anywhere upon the screen that they desire, definitely not a feature I normally see.
While the two different action buttons work whenever pressed, and are large enough such that they’re easy to hit on demand, it is specifically the virtual analog stick where over half of the game’s current problems lie. To put it bluntly, it has a mind of its own and at various points during the game will shoot off in whatever random direction it decides to of its own accord (and sometimes even become stuck there). While it can happen at virtually any time – making walking around traps far more difficult than it needs to be – it most often seems to happen right after you press one of the action buttons, thus making it impossible to fight back against your attacker as you are usually no longer facing them.
I would easily say that at least 95% of the deaths I experienced in Mazes and Monsters were due to taking unnecessary damage caused by moments of controller malfunction, generally aggravated by how the game handles your character taking damage. When your character is hit he will be sent flying violently in the direction opposite the one he is facing, but during this time he will not be afforded any temporary hit immunity. Because of this it is not uncommon for two monsters to play endless ping-pong with the hero until he dies – aided on by the controls randomly deciding to abandon you – or for the hero to be drug across every single spike trap in a room by the knockback, eventually being pinned between a spike trap and the wall at a room’s edge.
The dungeons themselves are each divided into five mini levels designed to be finished nicely within the period of a 15 minute work break, except that it will generally take far longer than that due to controller malfunctions, with a boss being found at the end of the fifth segment of each dungeon. While travelling you will either find rooms filled with the aforementioned spike traps, block puzzles, a few monsters, a treasure chest, or absolutely nothing at all (these often tend to contain the hidden objects that NPCs ask you to search for). While this isn’t a bad variety of things to find in and of itself, I should point out that there are currently only two different variants of spike trap and block puzzle rooms available (both of which are recycled heavily).
I should also point out that the game currently only has precisely two dungeons and towns implemented so far, which might explain the witnessed lack of dungeon room variety, but more have been promised by the developer to be released in the future.
Another hinging point of interest is Mazes and Monsters’ money system, with every enemy – and destructible bit of scenery – launching a shower of coins each and every time they are hit (technically making enemies more valuable when attacked with weaker weapons). These individual coins disappear very quickly after being launched, which – coupled with the fact that they will often fly towards the far edges of the screen – make them very hard to collect (the controls that constantly go against you during battles certainly not doing anything to help in this regard). However, Monster Robot Studios is more than ‘willing’ to sell you IAP packs of coins – as well as a coin multiplier that increases the value of everything you pick up in game – should anyone find themselves ‘frustrated’ with the fact that earning money is generally competing with survival.
Not that you exactly need any of the IAPs with the content that Mazes and Monsters currently features – it didn’t take me that long to save up for the ultimate battle axe presently available – but I still stand by my assumption that the coins are intentionally being made annoying to collect for a reason, something that may be of a greater concern when later areas are added.
Some other random issues I have run into include: I once had a boss kill me with a projectile attack that he launched near the end of his death animation, shot when he had already nearly faded off the screen entirely; the default location of the first town’s exit button appears the same place as the default location of the analog stick, making it really hard to move away from the town’s entrance without leaving again; the button in the item menu for aborting a dungeon is placed dangerously close to the list of non primary weapon tools, and it has caused me to wipe successful dungeon runs by pressing it accidentally; I have seen bombed walls/unlocked doors sometimes not correctly remain open after I walked through them to the room on the other side; there is a quest that asks you to return someone’s missing chickens, but you have to manually lead them through the entire town to their pen after collecting them to finish the quest and their AI is determined to get stuck on every little corner present; and various other issues too numerous too list. I will admit that when I at first saw this game currently being listed as version 0.0.2 that I thought it must be some sort of typo, but I am now more than willing to accept that such a number quite accurately reflects the current condition of Mazes and Monsters. However, the developer presently seems to be actively interested in providing a multitude of updates for Mazes and Monsters; so – perhaps with some luck – the game will overcome many of these issues and one day become an iOS clone worthy of the title it is trying to emulate.
On the plus side the game currently features beautiful graphics – full of vibrant colors and whimsy – that are furthermore nicely animated, which is at least something nice that can be said of the progress made so far.
iFanzine Verdict: Mazes and Monsters is what happens when a game is let out of the hopper far too soon, and currently has the amount of content that might have otherwise been acceptable for a free ‘lite-edition’ preview. This is nothing to say of the various control and hit-detection issues that riddle the game, which presently are in a state that can only be described as very buggy and/or broken. The developer says that more is coming – and I would like to see more come, as I do believe the start of something beautiful is potentially at work here – but there is no guarantee these updates will ever actually happen and/or fix everything.