Haunted houses are a dime a dozen in videogames: if Luigi, Lara Croft, Leon Kennedy or the protagonists from any number of other horror games weren't trapped in their spooky prisons, it'd have to take a pretty unique game to make us pay attention.
Sorcerer's Maze is one such title, a challenging and compelling retro puzzler from David Frankel, Alex Camelio, and Tommy Pedrini (No Vinegar Productions). You play as Clyde Michaels, intrepid explorer, who must explore a mysterious mansion that stands alone in apocalyptic desert where he lives. It plays similar to Bomberman combined with one of the NES Metal Gears: using the [arrow] keys, you guide Clyde through the labyrinth of the house, avoiding or destroying skulls, ghosts, mermen and other creepy-crawlies on the way.
It sounds simple enough, but each level plays out like a logic puzzle where you can't run into any of the pieces. As Clyde navigates each floor, he doesn't have the advantage of Snake's radar: you can only see what he can see, and there are a lot of blind corners. If that weren't enough, it's impossible to open some doors unless one has killed all the monsters in a level. By the way, the monsters are color-coded, and the magical blobs that let Clyde kill them only show up once a level. And you don't know where they are until you die a few times.
Some items exist to help you out. While one scroll shows the entire map, another tells you where the exit is. Fluffy kittens give you multiple 1-Ups, which is useful when trying to puzzle out your enemies' patterns by running into them. If you get frustrated, there's a level select option to let you skip to the next floor. Occasionally you'll run into a mysterious cloaked figure who follows Clyde from floor to floor. Who is this figure, and what do they want?
Analysis: It almost feels wrong to play Sorcerer's Maze on a modern computer. It feels like something better experienced on an Amiga workstation or an old NES. The team at No Vinegar Productions replicates the retro experience perfectly, from the cryptic sprite-based cutscenes to the bloops and beeps that serve as sound effects and the pleasant chiptune soundtrack. The detail and care shown in presenting the game's art style are a large part of the game's charm; as I continued playing, for some reason I kept flashing back to playing Bard's Tale 3 on my old Commodore.
Although there isn't much story, there also isn't much need for one. The attraction is all in the gameplay: if you remember trying to fit a rectangle with sharp corners into your palms, then chances are you'll like Sorcerer's Maze for its retro-inspired gameplay style and aesthetic. It's difficult, at times almost impossible, but you're always free to skip to the next level. Just be careful; in your rush to get to the end, you might miss something important. Like the platformers and adventures of old, Sorcerer's Maze rewards persistence and attention to detail. If you want to get the best ending, you'll have to play the game like you would sitting in front of the TV in 1980: trying again and again until you can do the whole thing perfectly, without missing a beat.