Make Trax (Arcade) review
"It's not fair, but somehow it's still fun"
Oh, Make Trax! So pastel. So simple. And so close to trolling in many ways. What a quarter-guzzler it was. I didn't realize what made it so effective when I was young, or even when I downloaded it on MAME years later. I just assumed I wasn't much good at it. But the more I played, the more I realized things weren't totally fair or charitablle. Not completely unfair, though, and once I figured how to outsmart the game, I was proud of myself.
It's one of many games that seem cute but are much tougher than it looks. You are a paintbrush, and your object is to paint a maze that doesn't change structure. The maze has two overpasses with rollers you can push from side to side to run the fish over. And you even get to paint a nice chunk of the board before two fish, tails twitching, leave their aquariums and attack you!
But it's not that easy. The fish get smart after the first few times you smash them, and they get faster than you at later levels, so you need split second timing to run them over, send them back to the aquariums, and mop up a bit. So you need to use the rollers to make some space from the fish, paint part of the board, then come back to the rollers. Even with this, the game would be pretty complex. The fish work together well. They often know to split up to have a chance to surround you, and though there are no dead ends (the game's not that mean) they often get you in a long side loop if you don't watch it.
They're not your most annoying antagonist, though. One of six cutesy looking creatures runs out when you're halfway done: two cats, a mouse, a bird, a car, and an invisible man. They make tracks (hence the game name, Make Trax) over what you've painted, and they make little twinkling noises which drove me up the wall to the point of chasing them and, until I learned better, ignoring how the fish were chasing me. Now the creatures are worth 1000 points if you catch them. Hitting a fish with a roller is 9000 at the later levels. But just having your work messed up is so annoying that it's hard to take a deep breath and semi-ignore the creatures. You sort of have to, too. You see, you're a bit faster than they are. But once you get close to them, it's hard to guess which way they'll turn, and you'll probably guess wrong even if you don't run into another fish. So you need to track them down again. And the creatures "know" how not to get cut off.
The solution, which took me forever, is usually to hang back a safe distance and wait for them to reverse track in a long stretch. They can't switch direction until an intersection, so that's the way to get them. This all actually makes logical sense, and if you're paying attention, you'll figure it out. But this one puzzle drove me crazy. I spent over a half hour saying, I HAVE to catch them, I'm faster and smarter, then another half hour trying to cut them off. Sometimes I could, in certain twisty areas--the creatures won't go down certain paths. But other times, it almost put me in a rage, especially since if the creature makes it back where they came after a minute of running on the board, the twinkling doesn't stop until you lose a life or win the level. I'm not sure if this is a bug, or intentional. The game's that wicked.
And it's just so pastel, and the background tune is so lazy, that you just don't think it could be that hard. But it is. And if the mechanics of clearing the board doesn't seem too bad, you still need to learn exact movements: the pitfalls of getting trapped, when to use the roller, how far away you can go, and so forth. And you need to look for one more thing: small unpainted triangles. You see, if you make a quick turn, which is generally a good idea when the fish get faster, your brush, which is round, doesn't paint a small corner of an intersection. If it's next to another, you wind up not painting everything, and the pastel paints you get (neon green, orange, pink) don't exactly contrast with the light tan background. So there's that. Then, if you solve the puzzle, you get a break from movement for a long time--time used to play a looping introductory tune that gets on your nerves quickly. There is no escape, without pushing F10 on MAME.
Still, that's enough to save the game. And oddly, it's best at the toughest level, because those have more rhythm to play. I've come to learn where the small unpainted triangles are, as well as the traps for you and the footprint creatures. There's sense to it all, and solving a fast level without losing a guy still feels like an accomplishment. But it's a hard, unforgiving game, for something so basic. That'll be to some people's tastes, as it was to mine. But you could be very smart and not be blamed for finding Make Trax's challenges too ruthless.
Community review by aschultz (August 16, 2016)
Andrew Schultz used to write a lot of reviews and game guides but made the transition to writing games a while back. He still comes back, wiser and more forgiving of design errors, to write about games he loved, or appreciates more, now.
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