Escape from the Mindamaster (Starpath)
Despite how limiting the 2600 hardware was, there were several companies who attempted to create first-person maze exploration games, some were pulled off rather well, like Tunnel Runner from CBS. There were also maze exploration games that were a little crappy, games like London Blitz from Avalon Hill and, Fox’s Crypts of Chaos were slow moving clunky and were either too easy or too difficult. I’m excluding games like Milton Bradley’s Survival Run, while being a first-person game; it’s not the same genre as what we’re looking at here. Enter Starpath with their not-so-hit peripheral the Supercharger, already they’ve taken on several different genres and won, so it seems they decided to take on the first-person maze exploration genre and raise the bar once more. Their offering was Escape from the Mindmaster, the name really says it all, you are trapped in the Mindmaster’s maze and through quick wits and puzzle solving you must escape from his grasp. No other 2600 game in this highly specific genre really comes close to this game’s quality; it stands alone with its complexity and smoothness, while its competitors languish in choppy movement and dull gameplay, with the exception of Tunnel Runner for reasons I shall explain later on down the line. Let us peruse on over to the graphics section and see just what we’re in for.
This game looks absolutely incredible, and that’s no overstatement, I know I tout the Supercharger games for having incredibly impressive graphics but E.F.T.M. takes the cake. THIS GAME IS SO DAMN SMOOTH!! The scaling in this game looks so damn nice it’s difficult to put into words properly, the only thing I can equate it to is the original Phantasy Star on Master System. The game’s is displayed in two-tone to give the game the impression of shadow, walls that are facing you are solid while the walls that are on the ‘Z’ axis (moving away from you) are simply an outline, I think it gives the game a unique simplistic appearance that I find to be rather charming. A nice touch that I also find rather impressive is the ‘render distance’ there is no fade, you can see all the way to the end of the maze, and turns are visible even from far away, unlike in some of the other titles in this genre. The showstopper though is the stair cutscene, which shows you climbing up a set of stairs in first person and the scaling is (again) so damn SMOOTH, it looks incredible! Otherwise most of the other graphics like the little alien stalker, and the keys, and the puzzles look fairly simplistic, the keys and keyholes are just solid shapes, and the puzzles really aren’t anything special to look at. Let’s set our sights onto the game’s sounds, thinking about it, that statement makes absolutely no sense but let’s just go with it.
This game has fairly minimal sounds; there are some wonderfully harmonized jingles when you start and finish a puzzle, and when you get caught by the stalker. The main sound you’ll be hearing is the constant incessant beeping noise the stalker makes to indicate its distance from you, the closer you are the faster and higher pitched the beeping is, unfortunately even when you’re in a room the stalker cant access you’ll still hear the beeping noise, which gets rather annoying rather quickly. Otherwise there aren’t any sounds of particular note, there is the soft and fuzzy footstep noise during the staircase cutscene but that isn’t too interesting, and just a large amount of beeps and bloops during the puzzles and with the Sliding Shields, but again nothing particularly noteworthy.
As stated before this is a first-person maze exploration puzzle game, the main goal is to solve the six mazes by taking shaped ‘keys’ and placing them in their corresponding keyholes which are hidden throughout the maze whilst avoiding the Alien Stalker. There is a puzzle included in every maze which will test either your memory, reaction time, and puzzle solving skills, doing well in a puzzle awards you points which are tallied up at the end of the game for your final score. It’s a very simple premise that is made more difficult through the introduction of the Sliding Shields in the second maze onward that will take a life if you touch them, one way doors which are self explanatory, and that little alien bugger. Much of this game boils down to you running around like a rat in a maze trying to find the correct keyhole, thankfully there is a map that tells you your current location and a top down view of the maze. I mentioned before that this game bears a striking similarity to Tunnel Runner from CBS; I think you’ll agree that the premises are quite similar. In Tunnel Runner you run through a maze trying to find the exit whilst avoiding creatures that have sound queues to indicate their proximity to the player, it simply removes the puzzle solving aspect, and replaces it with what can only be described survival horror, needless to say I like both of these games, but this review is about Escape from the Mindmaster not Tunnel Runner. Navigation can be a bit difficult since things start to look the same very quickly; thankfully you have a direction indicator, on your HUD. You can only carry one key at a time, I can see why they did this but it still slows the game down quite a bit, it also leads to a large amount of backtracking, I can understand why they did this but you will still get lost in the maze quite a bit, and it can get rather frustrating. If you don’t know how to get past them the Sliding Shields will be the death of you, you cannot move past them while they’re on the screen, you have to wait until they are completely gone before you can move past them, otherwise you get zapped, patience is the name of this game, but unfortunately you can’t waste too much time since the longer you take the lower your overall score, and let’s all agree here, score is life.
This is a very fun game; it has its drawbacks but is still enjoyable even today. Unfortunately this is a fairly pricey game coming in at 50$ for an opened box and up to 130$+ for a sealed copy, just the cassette alone is up on Ebay for 30$. While I think this is an amazing game I don’t want to pay that much for it, since I’m trying to collect cheaply and 50 bucks is higher than I’m willing to go. If you can find a cheap copy get it quickly because it’ll be gone before you know it (because I probably bought it), otherwise it’s best to stick to emulating this one until the prices drop, if ever.