Where No Corn Has Gone Before

It’s a peaceful morning. Sharp, extraterrestrial organ tones cut through the serene bird chirps in a sinister, yet cheesy manner. You wake up in the middle of a corn field, watching the backsides of three corn stalks turn behind a bend in the cornfield. There is no sense of who you are or why you are there, but it’s obvious what you must do – follow the yellow sentient corn. In a brisk, two-hour game, Maize brings players on a tour de force of a nondescript farmland, complete with underground laboratories, classified government experiments, and talking corn who love to dance and take naps.

The beginning of the game provides players with loose directions – just the basic controls, provided in a cheeky manner to set the tone for the rest of the game, which grows more and more absurd with each chapter you finish. Without a glowing trail or quest markers, the developers use towering stacks of orange boxes to guide you in the right direction or provide hints for each item you add to your inventory – and by hints I mean plain-as-day, obvious, “this is literally how you need to use this item” hints. There is some degree of difficulty – about as difficult as putting a round peg into a round hole – but Maize is meant to be enjoyed for the comedic aspect; players should not go into this game expecting anything else.

Comedy is, arguably, harder to pull off than dramatic writing; overall, the developers did a commendable job at creating some laugh-out-loud moments, evenly placed within the dialogue, characters, environments, cut scenes, and mechanics. The various (random) items – like a Faberge egg, top hat, and glitter and rhinestones –  you collect throughout the game serve no clear purpose until you are in a position to use them.

Many items will also need to be MacGyvered into something larger to gain access to a locked area or to thwart the evil schemes of the Cornacabra. You’ll never guess what the English muffin is used for until the very end – and it’s highly satisfying. The developers creatively explored new uses for everyday items and made each an integral part to completing the game. They put an interesting twist on the ol’ trope of collecting useless items in-game that clog your inventory.

The same can’t be said for the folio items, however. You’ll find a few useless rocks and maybe a unicorn candle, but the majority of the backstory is contained in the folio items, which, if you are not into reading all that much, you’ll miss out on.

Something else I found to be most impressive about Maize was the way the developers characterized sentient corn researchers Bob and Ted. Their living and work areas in the underground laboratory describe two completely different people – Bob keeps his personal space looking like a multitude of fraternities and 80s metal bands blew through there in a single night, and Ted is a perfectionist whose eye for decorating stands out more than the microscopic lack of dust – and the passive-aggressive post-it note communication between the two was a treat to read.

Bob whittles away their research budget on non-research related (and completely ridiculous) things, while Ted repeatedly insults Bob and somehow manages to keep his sanity. Maize would not be the same game without these two characters, as they pick up the slack where the story should have been doing the work.

Unfortunately, you’ll never get to meet Bob and Ted, even though they are the most developed characters in the game. Majority of your time is spent with Vladdy, your Russian robot teddy bear sidekick, trying to preserve the existence of the sentient corn. He’s one of the most cantankerous sidekicks in existence, but he eventually drops the mafia persona and becomes the loveable bear he appears to be one the outside.

There’s also The Cornacabra, a dim-whitted villain who delights in calling everyone “stupids” or “a mean stupid.” He has a bone to pick with the corn queen, but never a well thought out plan to lure the remaining corn over to his side – yell and complain first, strategize later. There’s also the trio of corn who narratively function like a Greek chorus, providing completely useless information before running off to do sentient corn things, and the corn queen, whose hot pink complexion and bulbous husk dress make her the only character with an air of sophistication.

There’s a nice mix of dry, slapstick, and absurd humor in Maize. However, there were a few points where the humor fell flat. Vladdy doesn’t skimp on the insults, but most of them consist of calling you an idiot or saying “dumb Americans.” Hearing this over and over again throughout the game grew a little tiresome, and left me wishing for some more creative insults.

Some of the captions were more intrusive than humorous, as well. A caption that said “stop pressing Q,” for instance, appeared sporadically throughout the game even though I never thought about pressing Q. Other captions rendered some of the humor redundant by commentating on an event that just happened. For instance, you would do something that annoyed Vladdy. Vladdy would tell you that you were an idiot. Then a caption would appear, saying something to the effect of, “You don’t think Vladdy is very happy.” It felt like Twitch banter, but I was bantering with myself and an omniscient game narrator; it was awkward.

Mechanically, there is nothing out of the ordinary for a first-person adventure game, but interacting with certain objects had its glitches at times. For instance, hovering your cursor over an item to pick up wouldn’t activate its glowing outline, signaling that you could, unless the cursor was in just the right spot. Most other items you can broadly sweep your cursor over, and the game will recognize that you are there. There is also a glitch that does not allow you to scroll through your folio items if you finish the game and then go back into it via the chapter select – kind of a bummer if you missed reading all that backstory the first time.

Maize’s absurdist story should at least get a good chuckle or two out of you. It doesn’t break comedic bounds or tear down narrative walls, but it’s a neat game that won’t make you feel like you wasted two hours of your life.