GAME REVIEWS

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Marchen Maze

~ MARCHEN MAZE ~
Namco
HuCard
1990

Marchen Maze likes to take people for suckers. It's a cute sort of thing, pitting Wonderland Alice against goofy little enemies atop bright game boards. Colorful backgrounds and sweet tunes help make it quite the charmer. Its play system is pretty interesting: Alice needn't worry about life meters and the like, as her foes attempt to knock her off by literally knocking her off the platforms. She utilizes her special charge-up baubles to blast them from the brink in turn.



As "cute" and "interesting" as this all seems, there just isn't anything exciting about a bunch of waddle-waddle sprites shoving each other around via marble shots. Well-timed leaps are often the best means of averting death anyway, as chaotic shootouts typically conclude with Alice taking a fall. The boards aren't very complex in design, and most of the power-ups you can find while exploring aren't all that cool anyway. Lazily thought-up level themes don't help matters: you've got the slippery ice stage, the conveyor-belt stage, the stage that calls for a little more platform jumping than the others, the stage with "danger spots" to be avoided at all costs, and a couple of stages where you don't do much of anything except stumble around.



Jumping from raft to raft in Level 6 could've been fun, but the sequence comes to an end so quickly and abruptly that it amounts to nothing more than a glimpse of wasted promise.



Things do improve but not until you reach the last two boards. Powerful doppelgangers pursue Alice through a legitimately large Level 8 that features a harrowing platform ride to the finish, and then comes the brilliant lava land of Level 9 with its incredible music. If only early-level foes were as aggressive as the beasts are here!



Bosses basically follow the best-is-at-the-end flow established by the stages themselves. Most of them are decent design-wise but succumb to just a few full-power shots and lack the aggressiveness to make death falls occur frequently. The very last fight is pretty exciting, however.



I really do like those last two levels. But I expected more from Marchen Maze, a game with a pretty good reputation that, while not expensive, isn't exactly a typical toss-in. Then again, maybe I'm the fool, blind to the appeal of two-thirds of the game's allegedly wonderful stages.

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