Saturday, July 30, 2011

Castiglione Plays Maniac Mobile Mazogs!

I stumbled upon Don Priestley's Mazogs shortly after discovering another game for the ZX81, 3D Monster Maze, which I discussed back in May. Mazogs seems to have been quite popular back during the heyday of the ZX81, eventually being ported to the ZX81's successor, the ZX Spectrum, as Maziacs, and inspiring a PC version as well as a board game.

This alone should give you an idea of how fun and addictive the game is.

The objective of Mazogs is fairly simple: Find the treasure located in a maze within a certain number of moves. The number of moves you are allowed is equal to four times the shortest distance between you and the treasure. Failure to exit the maze with the treasure within the allowed number of moves results in death by starvation.

Besides the possibility of starving to death, you also have to deal with the eponymous Mazogs, which appear to be giant arachnids bent on your destruction. Get into a fight with one of these and you are treated to a little animated sequence that hints at the epic struggle between good and evil which must be happening right then and there. Unarmed, you only have a 50% chance of emerging victorious (and unscathed). Equipped with a sword, victory is assured.

A Mazog gloats after having vanquished yet another treasure seeker

There are, however, less swords in the maze than Mazogs and not all of them are accessible.

You can also only carry one object at a time so if you find the treasure (which you must exit the maze with in order to win), you'll be particularly vulnerable to the Mazogs. You can sort of “herd” the Mazogs about since they can't attack you if they're above or below you on the screen (the reason why this is so isn't explained) but this can be quite a risky proposition since one wrong move (which you can make more often than you might think) can result in you unintentionally deciding your fate on what is essentially the toss of a coin.

Prisoners entombed in the maze's walls provide you with clues as to the location of the treasure and the exit (once you've found the treasure). The game offers three levels of difficulty: “Try It Out”, “Face a Challenge” and “Maniac Mobile Mazogs”. I've only played on the highest level as the first two difficulty levels appear to be tutorials for the “real” game.

Played on its highest difficulty setting, the prisoners die once providing you with directions so you shouldn't be profligate in availing yourself of the clues they provide since you may need them later on.

Entombed prisoner to the right of the player complete with forlorn eyes peering out of the darkness

That's all there is to the game but in its simplicity lies its charm. There's also a surprising amount of depth to the game due to the necessity of juggling three dwindling resources (time/moves left before starvation occurs, swords available and prisoners remaining) in order to claim the treasure and leave the maze alive, which might explain its enduring legacy. The game's rather minimalist inventory system adds another layer of decision making once the treasure is found since encountering Mazogs on the slog back to the maze's exit will require the player to either backtrack to the last sword found (and lose precious time/moves) or attempt to evade the Mazogs (and possibly risk getting cornered and facing a 50% chance of death fighting them barehanded).

If I were to be asked to categorize Mazogs, I would describe it as a real-time scrolling roguelike. The playfield is pretty small, only displaying 5 cells x 4 cells, due to the limitations inherent in trying to plot and animate a recognizable man in a 64 pixel x 48 pixel resolution display.

Note the assymetrical playfield - you can see further "up" than you can see "down"

I view the small playfield as more of a feature than a limitation since it heightens one's sense of claustrophobia and apprehension concerning what might be lurking around the next corner and thus adds to the game's atmosphere.

Mazogs's combination of simplicity of gameplay and strategic depth seems to have been a characteristic of the best of the games for the ZX81 and its contemporaries, and, as such, I believe it's well worth checking out.

Some of you may well accuse me of looking back with rose tinted glasses at those bygone years of the 8-bit computers but I don't believe that to be the case at all as I'll be the first to admit that during my exploration of the games library for the ZX81, I've had the displeasure of encountering quite a few dogs that were released for that venerable platform (cough - Robbers of the Lost Tomb – cough).

So I urge you to check out Mazogs and experience its addictive gameplay first hand.

To play Mazogs in all its blocky glory, you'll either need a ZX81 and a copy of the game or you can play the game on a ZX81 emulator, either on-line, or off-line using one of the emulators previously discussed in my article on 3D Monster Maze; the game's .p file, which is necessary should you wish to play it off-line, is available here.

If the ZX81's dodgy graphics (not to mention complete lack of sound) are too much of a distraction , there is always the PC port which can be downloaded here.