App Reviewed on: iPhone XR
User Interface Rating:
Replay Value Rating:
I'm ok with games that rely on gimmicks, but only if the trick employed is enjoyable and doesn't wear too thin given a game's length. Unmaze seems to hang its entire premise on the use of your phone's camera in a way that is both unenjoyable and easy to exploit, all while telling a clumsy rehash of an ancient mythological tale. In short, it's pretty disappointing all around.
In Unmaze, you play as a woman named Ariandne who has stumbled upon a magical crystal while looking through her brother's room. This crystal reveals that her brother, Asterion, and partner, Theseus, have somehow found themselves trapped in an elaborate maze, while giving you the power to observe and guide them in their attempt at escape. If these names sound familiar, it's because you must've paid attention to Greek mythology at some point. Unmaze bases its story off of the ancient tale of Theseus and the Minotaur.
What follows this setup is a narrative adventure where you choose to guide either Asterion or Theseus over maze-like platforms and talking to them at select points to try and discover the mysteries of their circumstances and what brought them there. The aforementioned gimmick of the game emerges as the ability to switch between characters at will using your phone's camera as a light sensor. If your camera is dark, you control Asterion. If it's light, you work with Theseus.
Covering the camera
One of the many curious things about Unmaze is that it gives you a way to cheat the camera system almost as soon as it's done introducing it. Only a short while into the game, you earn an ability that allows you to "lock" the light sensor into place so that you don't have to worry about accidentally switching between characters. While this is a nice accessibility feature to a certain degree, it also feels like a realization that this mechanical trick isn't all that fun to deal with in the first place. This was especially puzzing and frustrating for me as someone who typically spends time playing games in bed at night, as during these times my options were to simply accept playing with Asterion or play something else. If true accessibility was the goal, simply providing a button to switch would've been better.
In the end, all this ends up being fine because--although Unmaze tries to give you a narrative reason to want to switch between characters--none of your interactions between the two men feel especially different. Both guys are not especially charming, and what you learn about them over the course of the agonizingly glacial story makes you not really want to help either of them.
Buggy, brutal, and boring
Unmaze is a free to start game, which is probably its best feature. Its first chapter is free, and if you want four more chapters of the exact same gameplay and narrative pacing, you can pay $ 3.99 to see where it goes. For my money, I'd skip it. The mazes don't get more interesting, the characters only get more despicable, and the more you play Unmaze, you find peculiar bugs that exacerbate its already myriad issues.
In my playthrough, for example, I was served up the narrative sequence that unlocks the "light lock" ability twice. This wasn't a matter of closing the app and losing progress, either. I had actively been using the ability for a few encounters already when it triggered again. The game also behaves strangely when turning your device's camera on and off, hitching and disrupting audio in a way that is disconcerting. Even if you want to fight through all of this stuff, the narrative payoff isn't really worth it. The characters in Unmaze are cartoonish and immature in all of their interactions, and the entire narrative revolves around revealing secrets which somehow both take forever to culminate while still feeling like they're coming out of left field. This gives a weightlessness to the whole affair, making it hard to care about through your first playthrough, not to mention the fact that there are eight whole endings could could--but probably don't want to--unlock.
The bottom line
As intriguing as the art and light mechanics around Unmaze might look, they aren't used to great effect and don't have any quality supports behind them to justify five chapters of gameplay. The whole experience is messy all around, making it hard to recommend beyond telling people to try the free chapter if they are truly drawn to it.