It would make me exceedingly happy to be able to sit down and write that the new Doctor Who iPhone game, Doctor Who: The Mazes of Time, was a brilliant digital transition for our beloved Time Lord. It is not. Plagued by poor controls and uninspired gameplay, Doctor Who: The Mazes of Time feels like it has only had one of the Gallifrean’s two hearts used in its development.
Ostensibly, the game is a puzzle title – with Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor and companion Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) having to retrieve a family and spaceship that gets dispersed after the Daleks decide that they would very much like the ship for their own (it’s powered by time currents). So, you travel in the TARDIS from level to level, going from point A to point B, opening rooms and unlocking doors, and retrieving whatever it is that you’re supposed to retrieve in that location.
Each level is divided into a series of rooms that have to be crossed. Rooms can have multiple entrances and exits as well as switches, traps, spikes, things that can be climbed over (if you’re the Doctor), crawled under (if you’re Amy), and otherwise manipulated/traversed depending on who you are. Plus, there are baddies like the Cybermen and Daleks wandering around. As you run through the rooms, outside of accomplishing the necessary tasks, you also collect items like Time Orbs (which are fragments of the ship’s drive system), and gold (because apparently Cybermen don’t like it).
The game is setup so that despite being one player, you have to take both the Doctor and Amy across each room and to the same exit. You do this by switching back and forth between the two with the push of a button. The process becomes highly annoying, especially when you get one character to the exit and are automatically flipped to the other just in time to get killed by an enemy. Inactive characters can be killed when in the room, but not at an entrance or exit but once you go active you’re fair game. That is annoying in the extreme, particularly as there are some rooms where you’re virtually required to maneuver one character to the end before going to the other, and if the timing works out badly for you… well… you’re exterminated or assimilated or just plain dead. And you are going to die in this game, a lot.
Perhaps it is because you die so frequently that not only does the Doctor, upon perishing, look like he’s regenerating, but Amy does too (somehow I doubt that we’re going to be seeing a storyline where we learn that Amy is in fact a Time Lord in the upcoming season of the TV show though). Regenerating really doesn’t set you back to far, you simply need to redo the room that you’re in – which makes it maddening but not too time consuming.
The game is also hampered by poor controls. Rather than having a specific D-pad/joystick/controller location for a finger on your left hand to move the characters, every time you place your finger on the screen, the D-pad location re-centers to that spot. The end result of that is that if you lift your finger even momentarily when running and quickly place it back down you’ve now re-centered the controller and are at a stand still. It is, in short, a good idea that proves to not be great in practice. Beyond that, fine movements are both required and difficult to perform. There are lots of things like sliding floors and if you don’t place yourself perfectly, you’re going to fall and start the room again. The game also requires a lot of back and forth movement between rooms as switches in one room will affect something in another room. But, there’s no map available so hitting a switch might require travelling to a half dozen rooms before figuring out what the switch you just hit did.
Between the lack of fine controls, innumerable traps, and the absence of a map, the pace of the game can at times slow to a crawl, with little sense of accomplishment once you’ve actually gotten to where you need to be. Without a truly compelling story (and the story here is minimal) to go with the poor controls and disappointing gameplay, the experience works out to be far more frustrating than it is enjoyable.
If you’re a big fan of the Doctor and need to experience all of his adventures, you will certainly find things to like about this title (it is fun to hear the music and see the opening upon loading the game). If you aren’t that big a fan however, this may not be a great choice.