The game’s objective is simple: guide a red ball from a “Start” icon to an “End” icon in each level while preventing the ball from contacting a series of barriers that trace a maze of sorts over the touch screen. So far it may sound like a completely familiar exercise, but here’s the kicker: every command the player gives the red ball is mirrored by a green ball that starts out at the opposite end of the screen. Move the red ball down and its mirrored companion travels up of its own accord, et cetera. If either ball collides with a barrier it’s “Game Over.” Adding in the fact that the barriers are distributed unevenly more often than not means players can expect to solve numerous conceptual conundrums.
One can tell Assyria Game Studio had its thinking cap on while developing this one because all the mazes feel cleverly designed to stump the player, making each “Ah-ha!” moment all the more satisfying. At first I thought Mirror Maze would offer a laid-back puzzle solving experience until I cleared the first few levels and something completely unexpected happened. Barriers began to move and rotate every which way, the mazes springing to life as twisting, churning beings in and of themselves! Once this part of the game is reached the player will find its character changed dramatically, to that of an addictive and often exhilarating action puzzler requiring not only enough smarts to conceive of a safe passage, but also quick reflexes to implement movement decisions on the fly. Advanced levels introduce warp spots that teleport one ball or the other to a different location, creating new options for navigation or even hindering the player.
Mirror Maze does an outstanding job of gradually familiarizing the player with its complex mechanics. The game accomplishes this through explicit tutorials and careful management of puzzle evolution over the span of 36 48 levels — Assyria’s long term support plan includes lengthening the game with free updates. I also found level difficulty an aspect managed with extreme finesse. While difficulty certainly trends in an upward direction, it peaks and wanes so that stress on the player never becomes nerve-wracking.
Assyria’s clear focus on level design and progression seemed to translate into less attention devoted to the game’s aesthetic presentation, but the graphics and music are crisp if unembellished. Thankfully the soundtrack rotates among three songs, though two out of those three are relaxing tunes that seem a bit out of place in the more hectic levels. The player is given separate control over sound effects and in-game music, which encourages using an iPod or iPhone playlist if desired.
Mirror Maze requires the player to use touch screen taps rather than virtual buttons for menu selection and maze navigation, and this feels like exactly the right way to go in terms of design. On the other hand, the game’s most intense moments reveal that even touch screen input has its drawbacks. Mirror Maze demands that the player keep a close eye on the environment immediately surrounding the red ball, and yet controlling that ball means touching a part of the screen that lies in the player’s peripheral vision. In most cases I found no problem at all with this, but when required to pull off especially sophisticated maneuvers or guide the ball through very tight corridors I was at times confounded by the difficulty of achieving needed accuracy.
Moreover, certain parts of the touch screen are inherently inferior to others: maneuvering the ball to the very top, bottom, or sides of the screen becomes an unwelcome challenge due to the tendency for one’s finger to slip from the touch-sensitive screen to the touch-insensitive iPhone or iPod casing. Finally, the player is liable to accidentally trigger unwanted options on the menu that pops up immediately following a “Game Over.” Luckily auto-saved progress means the player will never lose data when this occurs, but nevertheless it’s likely to become a noticeable annoyance.
iFanzine Verdict: Mirror Maze provides several excellent twists on a well-worn puzzle genre, and players will no doubt appreciate the tender love and care devoted to its level designs. Despite a few kinks in its controls, iPhone and iPod Touch owners looking for a unique puzzle or action puzzle experience with loads of levels should find that this fits the bill nicely.