It’s that time of year again: the nights are getting shorter, the coffee is getting warmer, and – most importantly – Halloween is fast approaching. If you’re a social media connoisseur, you’ll be familiar with the avalanche of memes and excited posts running up to this spookiest of holidays. From skeleton wars to spooky ghosts and everything in between, it’s fair to say that Halloween is the Internet’s favorite holiday.
One area in which Halloween – and spooky things in general – gets great representation is video games. There are an absolute plethora of scary video games to choose from, and venerable franchises like Resident Evil and Silent Hill keep the torch burning on a regular basis for horror fans. It’s not difficult, in short, to find a way to cower in terror before your TV on a cold, dark night if you’re a video game fan.
Into this crowded genre comes Scary Maze, a rather aptly-named little piece of bite-sized fun that comes to us from Dutch company Terminarch Games. This is, as far as we can tell, Terminarch’s first venture, and it’s a suitably minimalistic affair that doesn’t overcomplicate things graphically or aurally. Scary Maze presents a time-honored and simple situation to its player: what if you were lost in, surprise surprise, a scary maze? Be aware that the upcoming review contains mild spoilers for the experience (yes, there are spoilers), so if you’re keen on experiencing it for yourself, you can play it on Poki right now before you read on.
The titular maze itself is represented in stark, minimalist terms; Scary Maze is a game of two colors, in essence. The maze itself is pink and the surrounding areas are bathed in a sort of gradient smoky darkness, with the player’s avatar itself being represented by a small white dot. Graphically, it’s not going to win any technical awards, but that’s not really relevant. Scary Maze’s mission is to scare its players, and at this it succeeds amply.
Partly, this is due to the ambience. Scary Maze has very little in the way of sound, choosing instead to surround its player with a sort of constant hum of wind and the occasional mechanical clang. This is a game definitely best experienced with headphones; you’ll miss some of the surprisingly subtle audio cues and ambient flourishes if you leave the job of rendering sound to your PC’s speakers.
Horror games live and die on their ambience, so it’s a pleasure to report that Scary Maze gets this aspect of its design right. The shapes and colors on offer might seem abstract, but the game’s atmosphere does the job of making the player feel like a lost explorer wandering through a hostile environment. Even with such a simplistic toolkit, the designer has crafted a horror experience which feels authentically creepy and immersive.
Of course, there’s still the gameplay aspect to talk about. Scary Maze takes as its central gameplay mechanics a relatively simple concept: players must guide their white dot avatar to the end of the titular maze. There are only a few levels, but they very, very quickly ramp up in complexity, with later stages requiring much more of the player than earlier ones. Indeed, there are one or two surprises in store for players who find themselves struggling with the midpoint of the game, which we won’t spoil.
If there is a complaint to be made about Scary Maze, it’s that the title rather spoils the experience to some degree. It’s no surprise to learn that the game has a horror inflection, with the aforementioned creepy ambience and rather ambiguous developer messages on death lending appropriate oddness to proceedings. If, though, the game had chosen to instead ramp up its creepiness over a slightly longer run time, the effect might have lingered a little longer in the mind.
Still, though, that’s not really the objective of Scary Maze. This isn’t a game to turn over in your mind again and again; it’s a thrill ride, a quick one-and-done experience that won’t trouble you once it’s finished. The best environment in which to experience Scary Maze is one where you’re surrounded by your friends, each sharing a headphone splitter and consuming large amounts of popcorn. It’s the perfect break in a Halloween movie marathon; a quick scarefest that will leave you appropriately breathless for a moment before moving on.
The central trick of Scary Maze is both its selling point and an important thing that shouldn’t be spoiled, so we won’t discuss it any further. Suffice it to say that this isn’t just a simple maze game; you’ll be getting much more than you bargained for if you’re looking for something to test your skills. Those of you who aren’t faint of heart, though, and who are prepared for something a little more eerie this Halloween, should find plenty of laughs and scares here.