Thursday, September 11, 2014

Shades of Resonance: Fond Reminiscence - Memory Log #1

Maze Craze: A Game of Cops 'n Robbers

Though I have a general idea as to which of those were included in the first batch of video games I ever played (a short list as occupied by 2600 titles Maze Craze, Circus Atari, Space Invaders, and maybe one or two others), I'm not able to pinpoint which of them, exactly, represented my first contact. That is, I don't have full-formed memories of my early experiences and instead only images of a four-year-old me in front of that old TV in my brother's room. Yet, somehow, I'm convinced that Maze Craze just might be the first video game I ever played.


While I probably played a few rounds with my brother in those early days, Maze Craze didn't become a favorite of mine until years later--sometime during the mid-80s, when I started including friends in my then-nostalgic 2600 re-sampling phases. A title that happened to show up during one such binge was Maze Craze, which became our last stop for the day mainly because we were unexpectedly engrossed and spent all our time on it. That's how the old story always goes: You discover or rediscover some of your most prized possessions almost by accident and then wonder how things would have turned out had you not.


These re-sampling phases never lasted for more than, say, one day every six months, but we had so much fun with Maze Craze that we returned to it weekly, which required that this particular 2600 unboxing take on an air of permanence--an increased presence the console hadn't enjoyed since the start of the decade. Since the house had undergone some interior changes by then, we instead hooked it up to the TV in my parents' room, where we'd play Maze Craze and a small number of other gems during the daytime hours, whence the room was saturated with an unforgettable white- and yellow-hued brightness.

There were very few games from the 70s that could hold our attention like that, but Maze Craze had a certain appeal that was in line with all of the Commodore 64 and NES titles we were currently enjoying. It's probably that Maze Craze was a simple multiplayer game, a matter of two players vying to be the first to get their red or blue avatar (we didn't know if we were controlling the cops, the robbers, or maybe even their cars) to a maze's exit. Its best modes were those accessed by flicking of the console's "Game Select" switch; they included mazes where you had to (a) first clear three moving checkpoints before exiting, (b) avoid the colored blocks, which if touched either permanently froze your character or required that it slowly accelerate back to its default pace, (c) move at super-fast or super-slow speeds, or (d) find your way through mazes with obscured horizontal portions.

 
It was filled with options and hit that magical combination of notes: It was frantic, fun, and utterly replayable! It was the personification of everything the 2600 stood for. I've mentioned that friends and I continued to play 2600 games into even the mid-90s, and Maze Craze was one of the reasons why. In fact, it was largely thanks to Maze Craze that the aging 2600 worked its way into our culture of gaming rituals with a newfound prominence, which it would continue to enjoy for another decade.

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