Review: Astraware Mazera

I’m into gaming lately! After reviews of Mastersoft BrainSchoolAstraware Solitaire and Ludimate Tilelander these past weeks, it’s now time for another Astraware game: Mazera. I happened to stumble across this game while browsing my favourite game developers, and Mazera happened to be in Astraware’s top 10 list. And while this certainly is not a new game (first release in November 2004, this feature page even lists “Compatible with greyscale and color devices”) it did get the “Designed for Windows Mobile” logo, so that proves the games quality.

Mazera is an adventure game in which you will have to travel through worlds, solving puzzles/rooms (I love solving puzzles!), in order to progress through the game. You will have to complete the game room by room, and you have infinite lives, so this makes the game really easy to pick up. Just try a room if you have a minute while you’re waiting. If you lose, just start again at the beginning of that room. If you complete the room, it’s automatically saved to your savegame (you can have 4 of them).

I still need to work out a “review template” that fits me best, but for now the layout from the last ones will serve just fine. So we’ll look at the installation and trial limitations first, then we’ll discuss the game menu’s, chapter 3 will be about the game itself, and we’ll finish with a conclusion and essential game information. Read on for the review!

Installation and trial

After downloading the PPC trial from here (.exe or .cab installer), install it your preferred way. You can install to Storage Card perfectly fine. The trial has several limits. First of all, when starting your first game, this screenshot (the one on the left) pops up. You will have to wait several seconds before you can start playing and you know that this screen will return later. And, while playing the game, you find that some of the doors are locked in the trial. Even if you have a key, you can only use it to open certain doors, until you purchase a registration code. And, finally, the trial is limited to allow you to only find and use one acces sphere in the first world. After that, you’ll see this screen (on the right) which shows you what you can expect from the full version. The trial does give you a good impression of the game and what you can expect from the gameplay. I also like the screen that shows you what you get after registering, even if it’s just because it says that there are 5 worlds to discover. Without that line, I’d have no idea how big this game would be! My contact at Astraware told me that the trial contains approximately 5% of the game. So there are 5 worlds, and from the first world you can play app. 20%.

Game menu’s

After launching the game, you are presented with a screen that doesn’t cover the entire screen. While full-screen games look better graphically, we see this layout with more Astraware games that have been in the public for some years already. And having your clock available on the top bar doesn’t hurt either! The in-game screens are all designed to fit in this space, so it doesn’t cause any problems.
The first screen, on the left, shows you the main menu. From here you can choose “Play”, which will be discussed below. The “Preferences” take you to the screen to the right. Here you can set the game music and sound effects level. In my experience setting this to 20% is enough, I didn’t even go past 40% since the sound can be pretty loud. “Scrolling” is turned off at my device. This settings corresponds to the in-game scrolling between different screens, but in my experience the transitions weren’t very smooth. While the HTC Wizard isn’t known for it’s good processor (200MHz), it does handle other animations (such as in Tilelander) very well, so I’m not blaming my device here.
Then there’s “Stylus Input”, which allows you to move your character (called Ix) by tapping the screen with a stylus. I personally preferred the D-Pad as a better way to play this game, because of the situations where you need to follow a small trail and move carefully. In order to change the Left, Right, etc. buttons you can pick “Set Buttons” here in the Preferences menu. Finally, you can set the preferences back to the default state.
Back in the main menu, we have the About, Register, and Quit options left which speak for themselves and don’t need further explanation.

So let’s continue with the “Play” option in the main menu. We are now presented with a Savegame screen, where you can pick one out of four savegames. After creating your first savegame, a new line will be added to the main menu in order to remove that savegame. I think it would be better if this was included in the actual Savegame screen so you could create, choose, and delete savegames from one screen. What I really like is that games are automatically saved, so you have absolutely no worries about losing your progress! It’s a real comfort to know that there’s no need to redo your hard work if you somehow forget to save before closing the game.
A final screen to cover is the in-game menu screen. So this is only accessable from inside the game, during gameplay, but I thought it would be best to cover the contents of that menu here too. There is the View Map options, which will be covered later. Then you can restart the current room (if you get stuck in a puzzle), access your preferences (same as above), suspend (abandon, leave) the game, register, and quit.

Gameplay

Time to get inside and meet Ix! Ix is your character, which is involved in a storyline – that I skipped, as I always do 0=). It doesn’t matter much, because after getting to know the basic gameplay Fred will quickly tell you what your goal is. Ix can move by pressing the D-Pad, or by tapping the stylus on the desired spot on the screen (only if you enabled Stylus Input). You will have to manouvre him through worlds, gardens, rooms, etc, solving puzzles along the way. Conversations and messages (when you find a key, for example) are shown to you in boxes like the one on the right. In this screen Ix sees a fruit (which is currently hidden under the text box), which he can eat in order to become very strong for a while, in order to leave the first room and start playing.

During your journey you will have to find keys and other items, some of which are placed inside treasure boxes. After finding a key, you can use it on one locked door. This door will remain open, but you will not be able to use it again on other doors, so you’ll need a new key for every new door. The amount of keys you have is displayed in the top left corner.

You’re being troubled in your journey by enemies and by puzzles. In the screen on the left, you see two enemies which are currently being stopped by the blue rays. As soon as you step on the red switch, the rays disappear and the enemies will be free to move. So you’ll need to move the boxes in order to block them! A cool trick (which is also explained in a text box, the first part of the game is a fine tutorial) is that you can push a block against a wall, and then keep pushing in order to switch places with the block. This is useful for when you accidentaly push a block against a wall, normally limiting your freedom to move. Usually this means you’ll need to restart a level, but in this game you can just “flip” the block, hopefully helping you out. If you fail at keeping away the enemies, you will fail, and you’ll need to try the level again. There are various items in the game (blocks, exploding blocks, keys, etc.) so while you progress in the game you’ll constantly find new stuff for which you’ll have to figure out what it does!

After playing through a couple of rooms you’ll run into a room where Fred, a sweet pink creature, is locked, and you’ll need to free him by trapping the enemy. How the enemy is trapped can be seen in the centre right of my screenshot here, but it’s not really a hard task.
Fred will tell you what you will have to do, which is great for people who skip through the story line.
Fred tells you to find four access spheres, and use them on a computer in order to open a gate. In the trial only the first sphere can be obtained and used onto the master computer.
This will seem like a huge task, but luckily Fred will help. He’ll mark the locations of the spheres on your map! You could have opened the map before, but now you will start finding it useful.

The map will, at first, not give you a lot of information. The white dots indicate the location of the access spheres, and the red cross indicates your position. This tells you the relative position of you compared to the access spheres, but nothing else. That’s why it’s a happy moment when you find your map piece. From now on, the rooms you visit will also be displayed on your map in more detail. In the screenshot to the right, you’ll see the map as it is after completing the demo, not really sure why some parts are still grey, even after revisiting them.

After completing all the levels in the trial, where you have to work your way past enemies, through puzzles (or a combination, like above, with the blue ray, red button and two enemies), and obtain some objects, you will finally find the first acces sphere. Try to get it! It will try to get away!
Then make your way to the master computer, and use the sphere on the computer. This will end the trial by blocking your way out. The exit in the screen to the right will be blocked by a block, and when you come near you’ll see the Trial Ended message with a list of what the full version offers, and how you can register. After registering, you can make the block disappear by walking into it, so quickly get your full copy of Mazera to unlock the rest of the game!

Conclusion

From a game first launched in 2004, you can’t expect the same as from a recent game such as Astraware Solitaire. I’ve found Ix to move just a little slow, and if you have “Scrolling” enabled, this might not work smoothly for you. However, this doesn’t interfere with gameplay a lot, and certainly didn’t change anything to how I enjoyed playing Mazera.
Mazera, like any other Astraware game, is a guarantee for many hours of fun for all ages! I really liked how the progress was saved, and that there are 5 large worlds to discover without getting a bloated inventory. I can recommend this game to anyone who likes solving puzzles or adventure games. Mazera combines elements of both!

Astraware Mazera can be found here, just pick your OS (Palm or PPC) at the bottom.
Trial downloads for PPC are available from this page, and the purchase can be done from here.
Price is $19.95 but this month (be real quick!) just $9.95.
Also, Astraware has it’s points system where you can save for discounts on other games, so take a look at that too. Just register to Club Astraware, and be sure to sign up for their E-mail bulletins too in order to recieve special member discounts.

Mazera runs on PPC 2002, WM 2003, WM 2003 SE and WM 5, and QVGA and VGA screens. Currently, Mazera is not compatible with the Treo 700w, 700 wx, 750 and 750v, or with the iPAQ hw6510 and 6515.

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