Genre: Maze Developer: Sega Ent. Publisher: Sega Ent. Players: 1 Released: 1987
The ’80s were a wonderful time for me. It had great music and some of the best fantasy films ever made (Dark Crystal for life, yo!). It also gave us the Master System, and while most of my friends were knee-deep in Koopas and Octorocs, I was having a blast with my little black box, saving Algol and riding skateboards through the jungle. To be honest, I never felt that I was missing out or that I had the wrong machine. In fact, I was very pleased with my Master System. It looked great and had all of my favorite Sega arcade hits as well as terrific original games. It also had something my NES-loving friends could only envy: SegaScope 3-D.
Say what you will about those glasses. Yes, they looked like a prop from an X-Men movie, and they were heavy enough to put insane pressure on the bridge of your nose. None of that mattered while playing, though. The 3D effect was awesome enough to immerse you completely and let you forget, at least for a while, that your face was being crushed by a black mass of plastic.
And the games! Missile Defense 3-D, Poseidon Wars 3-D, Space Harrier! They were just so much fun to play. I owned, borrowed, or rented every one of them, and when I got back into collecting Master System games a few years ago, I made it a priority to track down each and every one. I now have a full U.S. set, and while I love all of them, a single game stands high as the pinnacle of the technology to me. It’s the game that made me truly fall in love with those glasses: Maze Hunter 3-D.
Released in Japan as Maze Walker, the game is very light on plot. That doesn’t really bother me much when it comes to maze games. The objective is simple: find the exit to the legendary Labyrinth. Players enter empty-handed and must somehow navigate through waves of enemies and dangerous catwalks in order to escape. And this thing is pretty big. The Labyrinth is divided into five areas, each with four levels. The areas all have different themes, such as mountains, jungle, and ice. Each of the levels is three floors high, and a gate key must be found in order to unlock the warp gate and proceed to the next level. It’s not a particularly complicated theme, and the stages can be completed without fighting many, or sometimes any, of the enemies. As is the case with virtually all maze games, the goal here is to find the exit.
Gameplay is about as simple as one would expect from two buttons: strike with button 1 and jump with button 2. The most common item for defense is the iron bar, and it quickly becomes a maze hunter’s best friend. It’s the easiest weapon to find and the one players will use the most. It may not be as flashy or powerful as the other weapons, but it’s also not temporary. Besides, there’s no shame in beating your enemies senseless with a blunt instrument. The bar is also necessary for opening item boxes, which look very Mario-like with their question marks. The boxes yield important items like the gate key and power suits that can increase walking speed or the amount of hits that players can take. There are also shoes for jumping higher and for navigating slippery surfaces. In each stage, balloons will occasionally fly over the maze, and striking them nets temporary projectile weapons, a quick warp to the exit, or a POW-like blast that kills all enemies onscreen.
Players will have to make good use of all this equipment to survive the Labyrinth. Enemies come in all shapes and sizes, and they look great. In fact, the game is beautiful overall, and the Master System shows off great detail and beautiful colors through the glasses. The 3D effect is very realistic, and I still fondly remember how surprised my doubtful friends were once they finally tried the game. The same effort went into the music, too. A single track loops on each stage, but all of them are catchy (and sound BRILLIANT in FM), giving some nice variety that fits the action perfectly.
At 20 stages, Maze Hunter 3-D isn’t a particularly long game, but there is a continue feature. It’s a simple code and not an official feature, but it’s nice that it’s there at all. As long as the console is powered on, players can continue indefinitely by holding up and left and both buttons. I’m not ashamed to say that I abused that feature soundly. I’ve never managed to finish the game, but I did get quite far, and I plan to soon make up for this failure on the 3DS. Maze Hunter 3-D is included in the upcoming Sega 3D Classics Collection, and while I love to play it on my Master System, the 3DS makes it much more accessible and painless. It also gives the game a chance to show off for younger gamers who never played the original, and that makes me quite happy.
Anyone who owns a Master System should already have a pair of SegaScope 3-D glasses. The originals tend to be quite expensive today, and they’re not very sturdy (they break easily at the hinges). Luckily, those not willing to spend a lot of money can find cheaper alternatives on eBay and Amazon. I can honestly say that it is well worth the effort. I know that many people tend to deride Maze Hunter 3-D because of its simplicity, and while I will concede that its brand of gameplay is not for everyone, I don’t think it’s fair to compare it to the rest of the Master System’s platform library. Maze Hunter 3-D never came across to me as a platformer, and I instantly got an ’80s arcade vibe the first time I played it, which is not surprising, given its time of release. It’s true that it was likely meant as a gimmick to sell SegaScope glasses, but I’ve played worse gimmicks, and Maze Hunter never really tries to be more than it is. For some, that will be enough, for others, perhaps not.
In my eyes, Maze Hunter 3-D is the brightest gem in crown of great 3D games, and it still holds up wonderfully today. For those who enjoy simple, arcade maze games that can be played in short bursts, I can’t recommend this game enough. The only flaws I can find are its limited appeal and the logistics of getting it set up. As I said earlier though, that’s no longer a problem, thanks to the 3DS release. The decision is simple: find a copy and enjoy a great example of 3D console gaming. It’s a worthy investment and a great way to spend an afternoon.
SCORE: 8 out of 10