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Snail Maze (Master System, 1986)

A snail’s journey in a sea of blue.

Not the cover for Snail Maze, but close enough.



GENRE:  Puzzle/Maze

RELEASE DATE: 06/1986 – (US), 09/1987 – (EU), 10/1987 – (JP)

Snail Maze is an oddity in the Master System game lineup, in that, it never had a full-fledged cartridge or card release. In fact, the only way you can play it (short of downloading it illegally, you monster), is by acquiring an original Master System. Snail Maze was placed into the BIOS of every original Master System console – sorry, Master System II fans, no Snail Maze for you. To access it, start the console without a game inserted, hold ‘Up,’ and buttons ‘1’ and ‘2’ simultaneously to make the game appear. This was undoubtedly good news for Sega fans who bought the base system because they didn’t have the money to buy the “Master System” pack, which came with a game included. But what about us rich kids? If you’re sittin’ on Choplifter, Fantasy Zone, and Wonder Boy, does Snail Maze even warrant your attention?

Not quite Super Mario Bros.

As a freebie, Snail Maze works. It’s a diversion, something you would have played on your Nokia phone back in 2004. Much like “Snakes on a Plane,” the title says it all: you guide a snail through a series of mazes until you reach the end. These are adult mazes too, raw, unforgiving, hard-to-see-if-you-have-poor-vision mazes; no children’s menu place mats here.

A sixty-second time limit begins in level 1, and it counts down quickly, which means you don’t have time to head down the wrong direction. One or two incorrect turns and you won’t make it to the goal. If you do make it to the goal, your time limit is refilled based upon how much time you have left at the end of the stage. And so it goes throughout the game. The quicker you reach the goal, the better for your time in the long run. Supposedly, there’s twelve stages in Snail Maze, but I’ll be darned if I made it past level 4. It’s certainly doable to make it farther than I did, but only if you memorize the mazes. You can’t pause during the game, so memorization is acquired through repetitious snail-mazing, not cheating.

My valiant snail’s journey ended here.

Snail Maze probably wouldn’t be remembered now if the game hadn’t been built into the Master System itself – one of the first of its kind, certainly on home consoles (personal computers may have been a different story). For that, Sega was a pioneer, predating by almost two decades the concept of playing games on a console via hard drive. And just like free-to-play games lure in people who can’t resist getting something for nothing, Sega rightly assumed that people would play anything, as long as it’s free (make no mistake, though – free-to-play is the gaming equivalent of a satanic contract). I mean, would you have touched Snail Maze if Sega was asking forty bucks for it? But it came with your system, so why not? Who would have thought a simple game about guiding a snail through a maze would have predated trends now seen everywhere in the game industry? Sega, you slimy trailblazers, you’ve done it again!

Snail Maze, the idea:  B+

Snail Maze, the game: C-

7 replies on “Snail Maze (Master System, 1986)”

Just had a bizarre flashback experience reading that review. I vaguely remember when I was a kid that there was rumour going around amongst those who had a Master System at my school that there was a hidden game built in to the system. I already had Hang-On and Safari Hunt built in to my console and despite being told how to get this mystery game I could never pull it off and just forgot about it. I remember people saying it involved a snail but I never saw the actual thing. There you go Dylan you have solved a 24 year old mystery for me 😀

I think the greatest asset to Snail Maze back in the day was that (as far as I know) Sega kept it a secret. Discovering a secret game – even if it wasn’t very good – was pretty thrilling for kids back in the day.

Although it’s not relevant to the game, seeing the image of the base system box made me long for the days when getting two controllers with your new console was a given.

Maybe I’m missing something, but how does this fit chronologically? I assume the Mark III didn’t contain this, only the Master System, so I get that it had to be after/during the US release of the system, but what about the JP release date mentioned above? Did they start adding it to the Mark III system at that time, or did Japan release the Master System on that date instead of/addition to the Mark III? As you can probably tell, I’m not a Sega guy (prior to the Genesis), so this is all new to me. Thanks in advance for clarifying!

You bring up a good point. I should have mentioned that Snail Maze was packaged in with the Master System, which was released in June of 1986 in the US. The Master System as American and European fans know it was then released in October of 1987 in Japan. Hope this helps.

This isn’t even really a game. It’s more like an Easter egg. But I’m super glad you covered it. For the record I think I’ve only ever beat one maze. I mean if you look at it, nobody even knew this existed. If you sent in your warranty card, you would get the Sega Challenge newsletter that gave the code to acces in the hint section. I imagine most people never knew about it. I mean how cool was it that they built a small game into the bios? And didn’t tell anyone about it. I don’t think that has been done before that. Or since? You can’t really count built in retail games.

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