When a generic baddie kidnaps the would-be bride of Labyrinth Legends’ protagonist, he’s left with no choice but to sack every dungeon that’s fit to crawl through searching of items and loot to help him find retribution. If you’ve been on this whole video game tip for a while now, that should sound familiar. Labyrinth Legends isn’t trying to play with your expectations. It simply is.
Once you’be been dropped onto a dungeon-pocked overworld map and it’s up to you to figure out what to do next. Granted, your options are limited to “enter the next level or don’t,” but it’s refreshingly generous to find a game that assumes you can figure that much out on your own. Once inside, you don’t exactly have a startling array of options, either. You’ll block, dash, swipe and spin your way to victory every time. A ration of sliding block puzzles and hidden treasures add a modicum of variety, but otherwise what you start with is what you get.
You’ll likely never get too bored of those limited tools once the crawling portion of this dungeon-crawler begins. Levels are short and built around exploration and speed-running rather than drawn out combat. When the fighting does start, it’s fast and frenetic. Enemies take a more-is-more approach to murder. The challenge comes from timing your strikes just so in order to knock back enormous and often endless waves of oncoming skeletons and zombies without allowing them a chance to strike first. Most of the levels know better than than to hang around long enough for you to exhaust the simple pleasures of holding your ground against the horde.
Those stages that feature boss fights are a different matter, I’m afraid. These encounters are protracted games of tag, requiring you to carve out a sliver of health and run away before being slapped with a counterattack. During the more common imbroglio of dispatching a zombie horde, one usually doesn’t have the time to worry about how repetitively simple that action is. Reusing the same two tactics again and again to chip away at a boss’ seemingly endless stamina, however, highlights it quite clearly. What’s more, Labyrinth Legends‘ aversion to checkpoints is felt most deeply in these situations, as a death here means literally replaying the entire length of a dungeon. In these instances, those earlier encounters stop feeling breathless and begin to seem just as rote as the finales.
Like every game since time immemorial, these fights also occur at the end of their respective stages. That’s when you’ll likely be at your most vulnerable thanks to the aforementioned minor enemies’ assaults on your life bar and patience. At this point, the prospect of death is not only at its most likely but at its most frustrating. Even with most dungeons requiring under 10 minutes to retread it’s an upsettingly common frustration that plays to the game’s greatest weakness; repetition.
It’s only once you have cleansed the screens of the undead that Labyrinth Legends does begin to hit it’s stride. That’s when it’s time to explore.
There are bits of armor and better weapons to collect and make your minifig of a protagonist better suited for combat, but you won’t find them in shops. Instead you’ll need to comb every dungeon for hidden switches, illusory walls and secret passages. This makes exploration not only difficult, but rewarding as any upgrades to health or damage output you acquire are permanent.
During your search, you’ll likely also come across the hidden stars which must be collected to unlock new stages. Each stage is unlocked by reaching a star requirement, and each stage has five stars to collect. It’s a familiar formula, but one that is designed to keep players from gnawing through the available content too quickly.
Labyrinth Legends’ emulation of the old-school extends to its short overall length. If you put your head down and try not to die too much you can probably charge through every dungeon with enough stars to reach the end in a couple of hours. A completionist could probably double that length tracking down every last item and besting each stage’s par time. If that’s not your bag, however, your time with Labyrinth Legends will be brief.
The terse level structure and unforgiving consequence of death (i.e. no checkpoints) makes me wonder if this game wouldn’t have been better suited for a handheld.The ability to pick up the game, get one’s crawl on for a few minutes and set it down again would have felt natural and likely extended the experience.
The experience that Labyrinth Legends does provide is $10 of tough, simple fun in an era where most downloadable titles have begun their unstoppable climb towards the $20 mark. You may as well call that the ambition tax, however as Labyrinth Legends certainly never tries to be anything more than what it is. The simplicity is welcoming and the challenge is captivating. Unfortunately, neither of these things provide a particularly memorable experience.
A weekend diversion, then, but one you won’t regret.
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