Back in the 1980s, my mother chose to purchase a Nintendo Entertainment System for her very first home console. Meanwhile, her sister took the road less traveled and bought a Sega Master System. While the NES remained my favorite source of videogames during the 8-bit era, I enjoyed the trips to my aunt's because I could play her strange black and red videogame box. Even though I could not comprehend all the technical differences between the two systems at the time, I could tell that the Master System was something special.
I tried all of the games that my dear aunt accumulated, but sadly, after all the Nintendo I had been fed at home, playing games like Space Harrier and Golden Axe felt almost foreign to me. It would still be a few years before I would have the Genesis and Sonic the Hedgehog to ease me into my eventual preference of Sega over Nintendo, but I owe my earliest push toward Sega-made consoles to the teeniest little game that was tucked away inside the Master System.
That game was Snail Maze, and unless you had a Master System early on, you've probably never heard of it.
Story: You are a yellow shelled snail who must navigate extremely complex labyrinths. If you do not find your way out of the maze before the clock ticks down to zero, you are dumped back at the start of the very first level. The snail's motivation for getting through these mazes is impossible to tell without any form of back story or graphical representation, but we can boil it down to a few assumptions based on the fears of snails:
The mazes progressively get harder, and the time given to complete them gets smaller. Later levels become quite a lot like a game of Mega Man in respect to memorization and perfection. If you take a wrong turn on a high-numbered level of Snail Maze, you might as well just restart the Master System and start from the beginning, because there is very little room to make a mistake.
But the game did have its audience back when it was new, which included me. As a young child, I found that Snail Maze was a much easier game to pick up than many other Sega titles. I would spend hours navigating the mazes, even though I could never get past the fourth or fifth level. It had an odd element of addictiveness that kept me and many other kids going.
There are actually still a few die-hard fans of the game who fight to keep its memory alive and catchy tune embedded in everyone's minds. One went as far to make an exact replica of the game in Flash format. I can't do anything like that to bring the game back up to the light for a moment, but what I can do is write a Games Time Forgot article.
Nintendo games had many secrets buried within them, but there was never anything secret about the console itself. This is where the Master System trumped its competition, in my young eyes: the system had these hidden games built right into its BIOS. The concept that there did not have to be a cartridge inserted to play something on the Master System was like magic to me, and I admit that this has a lot to do with why I loved the game so. Now that I look back on the game, it impresses me in a different way. The inclusion of Snail Maze shows how much tender loving care that Sega once put into its consoles.
Snail Maze may not be the greatest game ever made, but it is an important part of both videogame history and the fondest memories of many Master System owners.
What's Up? Our panel at PAX Prime 2014, Far Cry 4, Destiny Beta, Vietnam & a ferret
8:00 PM on 07.25.2014