Your little brother and your boyfriend have been missing for two days. Search parties and authorities aren't turning up any leads, and there's been a string of unsolved missing person cases in your town recently. Looking for answers, you find a strange blue crystal and some ominous notes about a lost civilization in your brother's room. And when you look into the crystal, you can see and hear your boyfriend?!
This fascinating horror mystery setup is how Unmaze kicks off, and the plot only thickens from there. You play as Ariadne, a young woman trying to help recover her boyfriend, Theseus, and her younger brother, Asterion, from a mystical maze that she can only see through the crystal she found in Asterion's room. This phenomenal, weird title is definitely going in with the best Android games.
Mechanically speaking, the gameplay in Unmaze is very simple, with a unique twist. As Ariadne, you can see and speak to Theseus and Asterion. You can also view the maze around them, but your view is as limited as the screen on your phone, so you won't be able to view the entire maze all at once. Your job is to guide Theseus and Asterion through the maze by tapping which direction they should go and which parts of the labyrinth they should interact with.
Another major facet of the game is Ariadne's conversations with the two lost boys, adding context and personality to the potentially doomed people you're trying to help. Most of their conversations are scripted down to the last letter, but periodically you have a choice in how you want to respond. This can lead to new insights into the characters or affect how successfully they proceed through the maze.
Theseus and Asterion are both lost in the maze, but you can only help one of them at a time. How will you choose who to guide?
The most interesting gameplay mechanic concerns how you guide either Theseus or Asterion. They're in separate parts of the maze, and you can't talk to both of them at the same time through your crystal, so you must choose who you're going to help at any given time. In the context of the game, your crystal focuses on Asterion when it's placed in darkness, then shifts its focus to Theseus when the crystal is exposed to light. You manipulate this exposure to light and dark in the real world by moving your phone's camera closer or further away from a light source.
What's interesting about this mechanic is how sensitive and how immediate it is. If you're talking to Theseus and your phone is facing a bright light, the exact second you start to tilt your phone away from that light source, darkness begins to close in on your view of Theseus, shifting over to Asterion. Shifting back into the light will stop this process, but you had better be quick because the change can happen very fast if you're not careful with your phone's placement. Entire conversations can be cut short by a shift in light, and when Ariadne isn't guiding Asterion or Theseus, they will become more lost in the maze.
You must physically balance your phone's exposure to light and dark to shift the crystal's view between Theseus and Asterion.
During the first chapter of the game, I found this mechanic pretty difficult to get right, as I kept winding up not quite in the right lighting for either character. I even resorted to getting a flashlight to shine the light directly into my phone's camera to consistently trigger to shift to Theseus, but this was very awkward and not at all conducive to a long play session. Luckily though, purchasing the full game gets you access to a light/dark lock function, meaning you'll have a much easier time keeping your focus on one character after you shift over to them. Without this feature, I'm not sure I would have continued with the game due to the sheer inconvenience of having to constantly contort myself or move around my house to get the "right" lighting.
Storywise, this balancing act between Asterion and Theseus creates drama and conflict, as each boy begs Ariadne not to leave them whenever she tries to shift focus and help the other. The game will also track how heavily you're favoring one over the other via a small circular gauge in the upper corner. Your ultimate goal is to get both of them out of the maze, but how you go about doing that is up to you. What's worse, as your poor charges make their way further into the maze, they may start transforming into some kind of horrible monster if you don't help them enough. I haven't yet tried this myself, but I would love to give this game another playthrough and see what happens if you completely abandon Theseus or Asterion.
Unmaze is steeped in Greek mythology and wraps its story up in stunning 2D illustrations.
The real icing on the cake of this dire labyrinthine experience is the artistry and storytelling. I won't spoil anything beyond the foundational pieces already discussed, but Unmaze tackles some pretty heavy topics like morality and the very nature of the human soul. Steeped in references to Greek mythology and the classic tale of the Minotaur's maze, it does all of this while also featuring some of the most striking, surreal, and creepy 2D art I've seen in a mobile title. Florent Fortin deserves a prize for creating such stunning illustrations!
Unmaze is a far cry from developer Arte's previous works, like rhythm-puzzler Vectronom, but the shift to a narrative-driven adventure experience really pays off here. Unmaze probably isn't everyone's cup of tea, but you can try it out for yourself thanks to the game's free demo. There are no ads or in-app purchases aside from purchasing the full game for $5.49 after the demo runs out. There are 5 chapters in this stunning experience, adding up to about 4-5 hours of gameplay. I think it is well worth the cost, given that that's about a dollar per hour of superb mobile gaming.