Game Review: 3D Maze (Vic 20, Mastertronic)

3D Maze, Vic 20, Mastertronic - IV0012
  • 6/10
    Score - 6/10


3D Maze is fun in short bursts and had the potential to be an absolutely stunning game and one of the best Mastertronic releases for the Vic 20. But the need to reload every time you wanted to play a new maze makes it frustrating and stopped it from being a true classic.

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Considering the limitations of the hardware, developers often managed to push the Vic 20 to deliver some fantastic software. There’s no denying the quality of games from the likes of Llamasoft or most of the cartridges released by Commodore. But Mastertronic’s 3D Maze, written by Richard Darling promised something rather special… 3D on an unexpanded machine.


3D Maze – The Plot

For some reason, Mastertronic have decided to provide players with a plot behind 3D Maze, not that this is the sort of game that needs one. Parodying Star Trek, you’re an astronaut on the way back from Mars and end up in orbit around Venus (someone obviously wasn’t clued up on the layout of the solar system here). You decide to go down to the planet to explore but “Scottie” beams you down… but thanks to a hangover sends you to the wrong location and sticks you in the middle of a maze left with just your suit, a compass, map and limited supply of oxygen. You’ve got to find your way out as quickly as you can before it’s too late.


The Game

Once loaded up, you’re presented with a maze on screen with an asterisk in the centre (the goal you need to reach). Pressing 1-8 on the keyboard will change the maze layout, and F1 starts the game. Straight away this is the first aspect of 3D Maze that impresses. Each of these represents the difficulty levels of the mazes. And you only have a limted amount of oxygen to complete them (160 units) and each step uses one unit as does each time you refer to your map to help you get your bearings.

But each time you press one of the numbers a second time, the maze changes again so there are far more than 8 mazes. While they don’t appear to be completely random, there are certainly a large number of mazes to choose from. Movement is controlled using the keyboard or joystick, with F1 bringing the map up (although I found the keyboard option the easiest).

Mental Challenge

The earlier stages are relatively easy using a combination of the on-screen compass and regular use of the map to get your bearings you’ll be able to complete the mazes with plenty of oxygen to spare. As the mazes get increasingly complex, time becomes more precious and if you’re lucky you might be able to get one look at the map at best. So you’ll need to memorise your route as quickly as you can or it’s game over!

Technical Marvel

I’ve said before that Richard and David Darling were pretty impressive when it came to developing games, whether it was for the C64 or Vic 20. While they weren’t the most technically adept, considering they were both still at school when most of their early games were written – especially those for Mastertronic – they deserve all the credit given to them.

In the case of 3D Maze, duties were handled by Richard Darling. Considering the fact that this was running on an unexpanded Vic 20, he worked wonders with the hardware. All of that was down to how the game was put together. There’s no sound and all of the visuals are created using the Vic’s in-built character graphics so no memory was needed to create them. That also meant that moving them around and drawing them was faster than using custom characters.

But what was more impressive was the fact that the entire game was written in BASIC. This wasn’t unheard of for early games, regardless of the format they were released for, but considering the options offered to the player at the start there’s a huge amout packed in.


The first time you load 3D Maze, you do get drawn in by the visuals and soon forget how they’re created. It’s engaging and addictive and there’s a real sense of achievement when you manage to escape the maze. But when you do, the game’s main problem arises. Rather than return back to the beginning of the game, you’re taken back to the map selection screen but with one difference – you’re not able to change the map or difficulty setting. All you can do is replay the same map repeatedly.

I do try to be forgiving for many of the early games from the Darling brothers, but this is something that shows a basic lack of playtesting. While the entire game seems slick and polished – even for one written in BASIC – this is a simple issue that shouldn’t be there. The idea that you have to switch off the computer and re-load the game to play a different map is absurd and puts a real dampener on it’s replayability.


There’s no getting away from the fact that 3D Maze is a fun game, but it’s long-term appeal is held back by such a simple design fault. It’s something that certainly appeals for quick gaming sessions – helped by the relatively fast loading times offered by unexpanding Vic 20 games – but it could have been so much more.

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You know what we think but why not share your thoughts on this game! Let us know what you think of it in the comments below, or add your own score using the slider in the summary box at the top of the review!

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