Cratermaze is an uneventful maze crawler.
- The opening story scene might be an allusion to tripping out on LSD.
- The maze crawling is uneventful
- Avoiding the same monsters and using the same weapons gets old quick
- Monsters are too predictable, so there's no sense of peril
- Out of 60 stages, you only encounter two bosses.
Cratermaze wasn't a popular game when it was originally published for the TurboGrafx-16 back in 1990, and it isn't likely to gain a following now that it's available for purchase in the Wii's Virtual Console shop. The problem with Hudson's simplistic maze crawler isn't that it's broken or ugly. It's just wholly uninteresting.
According to the psychedelic introductory scene, five time-traveling friends have been captured by the evil Zenzombie and sent to different mazes. You play the part of one of these friends. Your job is to collect the treasure and keys in each maze so that you can access subsequent mazes and eventually free your friends. Thanks to the top-down perspective and squat characters, Cratermaze bears a striking resemblance to Hudson's other maze-combat franchise, Bomberman. The two games also share the same style of vaudevillian organ music and whimsical sound effects. However, instead of laying down bombs to deal with the monsters that chase you around, you use your shovel to dig holes for the monsters to fall into.
If you've played games like this before, you'll find yourself in familiar territory. The mazes incorporate devices such as spring platforms and warp holes that force you to put some thought into moving around, and the layouts become increasingly more intricate as you go through the game. Touching an enemy monster will cost you a life, as will falling into one of your own holes if you play on the hard or expert settings. When you successfully bury enemies, they'll sometimes leave behind items that you can pick up that will stun the maze's monsters for a short time, let you dig more holes at once, or transform your shovel into one of three different weapons. The bubble gun, yo-yo, and freeze gun all "kill" a monster in different ways, but they generally accomplish the same thing: getting rid of the monster for a short time.
Like the weapons you pick up, the different monsters all behave similarly despite the variations in their outward appearance. They simply walk around and make a beeline for you when you come near. Later mazes have a greater number of monsters, and they move a bit quicker on higher difficulty settings, but the strategy for dealing with them never changes. As long as you have enough space to dig a hole, you won't have to worry about getting cornered. Because the monsters' movements are utterly predictable, Cratermaze is missing that sense of peril that makes a game like Bomberman so exciting. In Bomberman, the monsters display a variety of behaviors, and they can often fight back with weapons of their own. That's not the case in Cratermaze. In fact, the only time Cratermaze puts forth a decent challenge is during one of the boss stages, where you have to collect all of the treasure chests while fleeing from a fast-moving, invincible demon. Unfortunately, there are only two of those stages mixed among the game's 60 levels.
Hudson has already made Bomberman '93 available in the Wii's Virtual Console shop, so there's really no point to Cratermaze. They're both maze crawlers, but Bomberman '93 delivers the explosiveness that Cratermaze lacks, and it offers a multiplayer mode on top of that.