Masters of the Maze was a kids' game show that aired from August 1994 to September 1996, produced by Kline & Friends for what was then The Family Channel, where kids competed to go through a crazy, life-size maze, testing both their physical and mental abilities. Billed as the "video game of the future", the show was ahead of its time in utilizing a combination of physical props, chroma-key and CGI to create the maze. JD Roth hosted the first season, while Mario Lopez took over for season 2, which also brought in several major changes to the format.
In season 1, the game began with three kids competing to identify distorted pictures on a giant video wall. Correctly identifying the picture was worth 10 points; a follow-up question would then be asked worth 5 points. If someone buzzed-in and was wrong, the others would be shown the picture in more detail. Play would continue until someone hit 50 points, at which point the other two players would enter a Speed Round with pictures only. Once the second player hit 50 points, those two would be selected to run the titular Maze.
For Round 2, the Maze runner would be garbed in a special "Power Suit", a set of metallic armor with was equipped with various functions for the Maze run, including a timer; they would also have a partner from outside the Maze, guiding the runner with a set of monitors and a giant joystick (to further the video game theme), which would activate rumble devices and sensors in the Power Suit to tell the runner where to go. The "Lady of the Maze" would appear as a giant projection, informing the runner of what they would face within the Maze.
The Maze itself was comprised of three different sections. First up was the Mirror Maze, where the Runner would attempt to find their way through a bunch of mirrors. At the end, the "Mirror Man" would wait, blocking the runner's progress until they answered a question (given by Roth) correctly. They would then pass over a bridge towards the next section, but they also had to find the two "Power Sticks"- one was in the Mirror Maze and the other on the bridge. Next was the Honeycomb Maze- where the partner would be crucial, as the runner would have to slide their visor down and hence had to rely on the partner. This part was six rooms with different locked/unlocked doors, and the partner would attempt to guide them through. Once the runner made it through and raised their visor, they would face the Lady of the Maze, who would then request one of the Power Sticks- this would let them enter the final stage, the Chamber of Knowledge. This Chamber consisted of multiple different "heads", which each specialized in a different subject (history, nature, science, etc.); the runner would have to answer at least three true/false questions from one of them, and that would open a gate, and all three open would allow the runner to exit the Maze, using the other Power Stick to stop the timer. After that the second team would run the Maze, and the team with the fastest time would win the game and move onto Prize Mountain.
Season 2 had, as stated, a number of format changes. The show now began with an introduction with a kid inserting the CD-ROM the show supposedly existed on, then transitioned to the new "Lady of the Maze" (younger and now no longer a projection) traveling to "Maze Island", where the show would begin. The first round now had all three players wearing new design Power Suits, utilizing "laser podiums" to "shoot" the picture instead of just buzzing-in. An additional bonus picture, worth 15 points, was also added. Otherwise, that part remained the same. The Maze itself was now bigger and more expanded compared to season 1. The Mirror Maze no longer contained a Power Stick, and the Mirror Man himself (played by producer Mark Maxwell-Smith) would ask the question. The runner would then move onto the Ice Cave, where the Lady of the Maze would challenge the runner with a picture like the first round, and if they could solve it within five seconds, they would take the short path to the Chamber of Knowledge; if not, they had take the longer path through the Ice Maze. Here, the runner would have to slide their visor down and their partner would have to guide them around icicles until they found the Power Stick, at which point they headed into the Chamber. The Chamber now had only four heads, and only once correct question was needed to exit.
The show, despite its short run and low budget, especially in comparison to some of the other Family Channel games of the era, is somewhat of a Cult Classic amongst the game show community, thanks to the wide variety of impressive (for the time) visual effects and gameplay elements.
Game Show Tropes in use:
- Bonus Round: Both seasons had different ones.
- Season 1: Prize Mountain, where the runner faced five revolving monitors and attempted to use an arm-mounted laser, fired by their partner, to zap the screen when it showed "Prize"; three out of five screens showing "Prize" would win a $500 gift certificate at the Sharper Image.
- Season 2: An odd mixture of Prize Mountain (renamed Lightning Mountain) and the end of the Maze run; the runner and partner would attempt to shoot a video screen twice in the center, then run up Lightning Mountain to insert the Power Stick and stop the clock. The second team would then run the Maze, and the team with the best time won- the runner got the $500 gift certificate, while the partner got a $200 one.
- Bonus Space: The bonus puzzle in the front game, and the Lady of the Maze's puzzle prior to the Ice Cave, both in season 2; the Power Sticks acted as a cross between this and a Plot Coupon.
- Consolation Prize: Boomboxes, sometimes. For season two, the losing team got a $75 Sharper Image gift certificate.
- Eject the Loser: Inverted- the member of the winning team that had run the Maze was disintegrated into a floating ball of particles via CGI and sent on a "special journey" through the set and into the game's giant monitor- in season 1, this would display their name and Maze run time on the monitor, while season 2 sent them through a CGI tunnel and onto Maze Island (albeit a wireframe CG model of it).
- Golden Snitch: The front game didn't matter at all- it was all about the Maze, and whoever could run it faster.
- Speed Round: See above.
- Undesirable Prize: What kid really wanted a gift certificate to the Sharper Image in the days before Robosapien?
This show provides examples of:
- Conspicuous CG: For the mid-90s, it was okay. Now, it's just horrid.
- Creator Cameo: Producer Mark Maxwell-Smith note portrayed the Mirror Man and also voiced one of the Guardians of Knowledge.
- Follow the Leader: The whole "power armor" gimmick seems like it was from a Power Rangers knockoff attempt, not a kids' game show.
- The front game, meanwhile, seems a lot like Get the Picture.
- Oracular Head: The Lady of the Maze was this in the first season.