App Reviewed on: iPhone XR
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Maze Machina is a game about being a mouse stuck in a deadly lab experiment full of robotic foes and dangerous weaponry. It’s also the latest game from Arnold Rauers, the mind behind games like Card Crawl, Card Thief, and Miracle Merchant. Where most of his previous releases involve cards, Maze Machina opts for tile-based puzzle combat that takes a little getting used to, but is otherwise yet another smart, deep, and fun mobile roguelike.
Mouse vs. machine
In Maze Machina, you play as a mouse that has been chosen to be a test subject for a deadly maze made by Automatron, a maniacal robot overlord. Your quest is to survive through fifteen iterations of a death maze that contains robot enemies and all manner of armaments—from bombs to teleport guns—without dying.
“Maze” is a bit of a loose term in this game, as it refers less to a series of winding corridors and more to a set of tiles that you have to learn to manipulate so you can collect a key and unlock the next floor. Despite not having walls or dead-ends, Maze Machina’s levels maintain a puzzle-like challenge because you and your robot foes all move simultaneously in the same direction (think Threes). To make things even more complicated, each tile in every maze contains one of twenty weapons or tools that can either help or hurt your ability to get closer to the keys you’re chasing.
With the variety of tools at your disposal, games of Maze Machina rarely feel alike. On some runs, the best strategy might be to charge your enemies with swords and spears to clear a path to the key and exit. On others, you might need to take advantage of the grappling hook to pull things within your reach. Some runs might even provide so little utility from your tileset that your best course of action is to outmaneuver your enemies without any item assistance at all.
Whatever your strategy ends up being, though, Maze Machina forces you to be efficient. You can’t just safely move all over the board as much as you want to try and create openings or safe passage because this game features a stamina system. Every move you make drains your stamina, and if it hits zero, your mouse dies. Over the course of a run, you can pick up cheese to gain additional stamina, but that usually only shows up every three floors. As a result, you need to plan carefully and try to find the fastest route to your goals at almost all times.
Experiment to your liking
Managing stamina feels a little unintuitive in Maze Machina at first because the game doesn’t really prepare you for it. In taking you through all twenty tiles and teaching you how they work, Maze Machina’s tutorial mentions the system, but doesn’t fully prepare you for dealing with it in real runs. The game is also designed in such a way that movement feels trivial. It’s easy to make a few quick swipes without thinking about the cost that comes with it. If you put any serious amount of time into Maze Machina though, you learn to balance speed and caution pretty well so that this is no longer a problem.
As a roguelike, Maze Machina is a run-based game, and simply tests your skills with different, procedurally-generated mazes each time you start a new game. Things don’t ever get stale though, especially considering Maze Machina sports four modes, all of which have their own unique flavor. My personal favorite is the game’s draft mode, which forces you to choose between three modifiers every three floors to make for an evolving challenge.
The bottom line
Maze Machina is a welcome change of pace from Arnold Rauers. This cardless roguelike dungeon-crawler provides a ton of variety and challenge through a clever mix of mechanics and modes. You may have to spend some time with the game for things to really click, but doing so is definitely worth it.