America - Front
America - Back
By Adam Cartwright 17th Jul 2021 | 3,292 views
It’s rather bizarre that, in the final year of Vita’s life, I’ve reviewed not one but two titles based on the old pen and paper game Dots and Boxes. And that's despite the fact that I haven't played a single Dots and Boxes game in the past decade of gaming on the handheld. Is this somehow representative of the calibre of titles that a dying platform gets as it drives off into the sunset? Quite possibly, but I’m pleased to report that Mind Maze at least proves to be an enjoyable enough distraction to make it worth dusting off the old handheld for a commute or two.
The last Dots and Boxes title I reviewed was Gods of Almagest, a well-intentioned disaster that seemed more concerned with innovation than nailing the fundamentals, leading to a game that definitely wasn’t worth your time even if it seemed like a neat idea at its core. Mind Maze is the exact opposite of this – it isn’t trying to bring anything new to the formula at all. In fact, I’d say it’s probably one of the least flashy Vita titles I’ve ever played, but thankfully it does nail the basics and therefore manages to provide a pretty addictive handheld puzzler experience.
Those basics are that you place lines on a pre-made grid and, when you enter the fourth line to make a complete square, a little light comes on in the middle of the box, giving you a point and another turn. Mind Maze rapidly descends into mind games beyond this as you plan your strategy ahead to try and trick your opponent into allowing you to create a string of squares next to each other, giving you a tonne of points. The start of every match basically involves placing lines in as many places as possible without giving your foe an opening, as things can very quickly go downhill from there, and this is surprisingly tense and enjoyable.
Partly that's due to the strategies you’ll develop as you get more experienced – do you cede one side of the grid to your opponent to force them to make a move that will give you a bigger advantage? Do you trade a four-point part of the grid in the hopes that your opponent is forced to give you a six-point rectangular section? You’ll spend a lot of time thinking ahead, which can be a little frustrating if you accidentally miss something that ends up throwing the round, but it will always be your fault so it’s difficult to feel hard done by. Mind Maze also includes a wide selection of maps that require different tactics – some are long and thin, some are wide, and others have islands that you can give up without fear of losing the bulk of the grid.
I definitely felt myself getting better the more I played, but this wasn't thanks to the AI, which was inconsistent and either spotted the mistakes I made and punished me harshly for them or made ridiculous oversights like stopping a chain mid flow to allow me to fight back. Sometimes my mistakes were due to the UI. It's clean and basic, but occasionally it's not obvious where the cursor is located, leading to misplacements that can be costly.
On the upside the game's performance is decent overall and I'm a massive fan of the soothing electronic soundtrack that's included - it reminded me of the early Ratchet & Clank titles at points, which is a big plus.
Included is a 25 level single player campaign, where maps become increasingly complex as you progress. When you’re finished with that there's also a second ‘triplex’ campaign to play through (this was originally DLC for the 2017 PC release). All together the campaigns should keep you occupied for a couple of afternoons. Afterwards you can dip into the Hotseat mode, which allows you to play with up to seven friends and pass the console between you to take turns (or fill these spots with AI opponents), leading to some huge showdowns as you keep track of everyone's score and try to stop the leaders from getting easy points. Nothing too substantial, but given the game's bargain price it’s a good deal.
A basic version of a simple concept, Mind Maze nonetheless nails all the fundamentals to make for an addictive brain-teasing puzzler. It won't blow your socks off, or keep you engaged for too long, but it's enjoyable and well executed.