Strangely, Maize is a game that offered very little in the way of pre-release build up, providing a game reveal and then only a couple of barely worthwhile press releases, yet I think many people may have made up their minds as soon as that brilliant premise tag-line was first released – “a game about sentient corn”. Bound to be zany, probably irritating and unamusing for some, yet laugh out loud funny for others. Yet there is an element of mystery about Maize which courses strongly throughout that wasn’t portrayed quite so well in the few pre-release trailers and articles. I certainly don’t think this is a bad thing, in fact, it was something of a pleasant surprise when I started to think “this isn’t quite what I expected”, but for those who formed an opinion based on the wacky premise, there’s a bit more to this title than you might think.

 

The game begins simply with you waking in a corn field, and ahead of you what appears to be stalks of corn running in the opposite direction. So of course you decide to follow them. Long story short, you discover that this place is filled with sentient corn, and before you know it, you’re guided towards the entrance to an underground research facility. It seems two bickering scientists may have had something to do with what happened here – judging by the plethora of post-it notes left around the place – but where they’ve gone and what these sentient corns are actually up to, we will have to find out.

 

The tone of the game becomes quickly apparent from the outset. There’s the obvious wacky concept and silly humour – talking corn that seem a little dim and slapstick – but also, as I said above, that mysterious element. It’s not a very dialogue heavy game, and most of it will see you exploring environments with a slightly unnerving soundtrack in the background – something very weird has happened to this place, and there is no sign of, for lack of a better word, ‘normal’ life.

 

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This means much of the game’s story is experienced through things you find, for example the post-it notes the two scientists kept leaving for each other – painting a picture of, not just their fraught relationship, but also the sort of work they were doing there. Of course, the game does feature characters, dialogue and cinematics, but very little is explicitly explained to you until the end of the game.

 

I feel this mystery and reserved approach plays to the gameplay’s strengths in exploring. After all, that’s essentially what the game entails – exploration and item puzzling – so in order to get the full picture you really need to look about and pay attention. I think it would be misleading to refer to Maize as a ‘walking simulator’ as I have already seen some doing, as despite its linearity and an emphasis on walking around looking at things, the item puzzling elements are also quite significant.

 

You find items, combine them to make things, then use those things to fix problems. It sounds quite standard when explained like that, but bear in mind you are exploring areas, often with multiple rooms and paths, so keeping on top of things you need to solve does require a bit of brain power from the player – in fact, I did find myself getting stuck on a couple of occasions. But what really makes Maize stand out, despite this mysterious tone I have already mentioned, is that wacky humour and some fourth wall breaking parody. Maize does a great job of striking a balance between the ‘toned down’ gameplay and the bat-shit silliness, ultimately creating an experience that seems more witty than stupid.

 

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This is present throughout the gameplay, both in the content of the writing and in how the puzzles are presented. The game very much parodies the genre, with you finding seemingly useless items to come up with a solution that magically solves a problem. In some cases this could mean a solution like putting a bucket on top of a stand to fool a facial recognition security system, in others it’s deliberately less subtle – you combine some items together and the game announces “a new path has opened”. It makes the puzzles feel a bit random sometimes, and they’re funnier for it, though that unpredictability also creates problems in that it sometimes makes it difficult for you to actually work some of them out. Don’t get me wrong, the game isn’t that difficult really, but occasionally I found myself looking for a last piece to solve a puzzle, just looking at everything and anything because I didn’t have a clue what it was I was supposed to be looking for.

 

Aside from objects for puzzles, the game is also filled with bits of Intel and collectables. When you find one of these it unlocks a description that you can read, sometimes shedding light on the history of this facility, other times engaging in that parody fourth wall breaking. For example, our character will pick up some large, heavy object that has no use to you whatsoever, and the game will state “you picked this up because you liked the look of it, and will carry it around with you forever”, or that you will wear this chair you just picked up as a hat. I found myself giggling quite a bit at the descriptions, and it definitely instilled a desire in me to find more of these collectables.

 

I’ve not mentioned the various characters in Maize yet, and I don’t think I want to spoil much about them, since much of the point of the game is finding out about them and why everything here is the way it is, but trust me when I say they’re an odd bunch. From the little Russian bear that insults you at every turn, to the goofy stalks of corn that are more concerned with napping than much else, the developers and voice actors have done a great job of creating some funny dialogue and situations. Of course, this will probably be the more divisive area – whether you actually enjoy this kind of humour, but there’s only one way to find that out.

 

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Unfortunately, however, Maize isn’t without its issues. From a technical standpoint, it’s a bit of a mess. The main menu is barely functional, and the UI is clunky as fuck. It’s not game-breaking stuff (unless, of course, you can’t start the game which on my first two attempts I couldn’t – perhaps this has been patched now, but I’d still be wary) but it does take a bit of getting used to. Also, it’s disappointing. The visuals aren’t quite as grand as pre-release screenshots appeared to be, and there’s a serious issue with bloom (which can’t be turned off in the options menu). It’s enough to dampen the experience at the very least.

 

But otherwise I don’t take issue with anything else in Maize. I felt entertained and pleasantly surprised and intrigued throughout. Also, I’d love to talk about the ending of the game, but I’ll resist and say you should experience it for yourself – it’s delightfully ridiculous, and reveals an amazing twist. The balance struck between humour and mystery makes Maize stand out, and, at least subjectively, I found the game to be quite funny. The puzzles are a bit random, but they still provide a challenge in places, so the gameplay doesn’t become rote. Perhaps the game is a little short, sitting at 3 hours, however I felt the pacing was on point.

 

If you’re into your humorous games, don’t mind a bit of silliness and fourth wall breaking, then I think Maize could provide you with a lot of enjoyment. It certainly impressed me, especially after initial expectations of what the game would be like, and I think that’s a testament to the game’s good writing and pacing. I’d give it a shot anyway, if you have any interest in these sort of games – even if you have some reservations, I think it may pleasantly surprise you.

 



Author

John Little
John Little

I started gaming with the release of the PS1, and have been enthralled with the medium ever since. I particularly love strategy and horror games - Silent Hill 2 and Shogun 2 being a couple of my all time favourites. I became adamant that I wanted to be a video game critic after discovering YouTuber TotalBiscuit, and subsequently took on (and completed) a Journalism course, hoping to one day play and talk about video games for a living...or, you know, just as a hobby.