Dungeon crawlers fall into a category of games that are simple to make but hard to make well. The formula requires a player to be dropped into dungeon after dungeon, fighting off monsters while solving puzzles to reach the exit. The easy mechanics can be brought down by bland dungeon design, and combat and puzzles that don't strike the right balance and difficulty level. To that end, Creat Games has stripped away most of the fluff and crafted Labyrinth Legends, which turns out to be quite good.
If you want to get an idea of how simple the development team has taken things, look no further than the story, which is reminiscent of plots from the salad days of the video game era. It's your wedding day, and the whole town has come to celebrate the event. Unfortunately, just as the ceremony finishes, a dark purple cloud whisks away your bride. Determined to get your wife back, you explore every dungeon to seek out and kill the mysterious cloud.
Labyrinth Legends tasks you with going through 16 dungeons. As in most other dungeon games, your goal is to traverse room after room to find the exit and escape. You'll encounter a few puzzles that impede your progress and lots of enemies who do the same, including a few bosses. Along the way, you'll do the usual exploring, like collecting better armor and weapons and grabbing as much treasure as you can carry. In short, this is everything you'd expect from a dungeon crawler, but it's been distilled down to the core mechanics. As valuable as gold is, it's only used as a way to determine your score, so don't expect to hoard it to get better equipment. Also, any equipment you find is automatically equipped and carries no stats, so you won't find something that is weaker than what you already have. All of the stuff you find comes with benefits, but like the gold, don't expect to trade it in to buy better stuff. Defeating enemies, solving puzzles, and getting out are the real focus here.
With the game mechanics focusing on the core genre tenets, the only addition is the inclusion and collection of stars. In each level, there are five stars to be collected, all of which are essential if you want to unlock every level and beat the game. You'll easily leave the level with two or three stars, but it's the last two or three stars that highlight the game's puzzle elements; solving the puzzles are the only way to acquire the remaining stars.
Part of the joy of the puzzles comes from the game's use of light. Much like an RTS title's fog of war, every room you encounter is covered in darkness until you move, and your light uncovers parts of the dungeon as you travel. You'll encounter switches, enemies, and deadly instruments a little too late, catching you off-guard most of the time unless you've traversed the level before. Death due to pits and other traps only takes away a little bit of your health or armor. By contrast, enemies that mob you take more health because you don't get a grace period of invincibility after each hit. This gives the game an odd sort of balance where a little bit of recklessness is fine as long as you're willing to put up a fight when it's necessary.
The puzzle layout is also a strong point, especially for the few that don't even resemble puzzles. Finding hidden pathways always leads to treasure or a star, and it pays to be observant. Finding a glowing skull, for example, can tip you off to a hidden passageway to a star and lots of treasure. Other puzzles are more cleverly hidden. Taking a direct route to a room full of zombies is an expected tactic, but discovering the alternate route and killing the zombies with a fire trap is worthy enough to uncover a star. There's a good mix of obvious and hidden puzzles that keep you guessing, and that's one of the things that Labyrinth Legends does right.
The simple but beguiling nature of the game makes a great foundation, but some of the elements aren't very endearing. The difficult parts of each dungeon are excellent, but the overall size of most of the dungeons feels better suited for portable play than at home. You can easily breeze through the 16 levels in an afternoon, and there aren't any secrets to be found once you get through the title. There are only two environments in the game, and that doesn't quell the sense that this is a short game.
The AI is used for your wizard friend, who tags along in a few levels. He is more of a hindrance than help, as he'll either lag far behind you in a room or impede your progress by standing in your way. You can switch places with him but can't take control of him in these co-op situations, but it's frustrating when you find him concentrating on the wrong thing or refusing to defend himself from attacks. This is even more aggravating because he turns out to be a pretty powerful wizard for the few levels in which you can take control of him. His presence, while useful, is annoying enough that you become more grateful for the levels where he doesn't show up.
To combat the short time spent with the game, the developers have thrown in a few multiplayer modes. Domination has you trying to hold on to a gift for as long as possible before time runs out. Treasure Hunt has you scrambling to get as much treasure as possible while Survival is this game's version of Horde mode as you survive wave after wave of enemies until you're finally defeated. All of the modes support four players, but the fun factor diminishes greatly if you don't have four players at all times. It works well for offline play, but the lack of online play is disappointing. It's also disheartening that the campaign doesn't have a co-op feature since a few of the campaign stages can be quite suitable for two players.
As far as presentation goes, Labyrinth Legends does a number of things that go against the dark and moody atmosphere of most dungeon crawlers. For starters, the entire title is done in a cel-shaded style, so even though most of the opening environments match the dreary atmosphere, it is quickly offset because just about every other object is brighter than usual. There are very few examples of games that play with lighting and shadow so well. The only gripe is that the enemies are so limited, so prepare for lots of mummies, skeletons, zombies, and not much else. While bosses help break up the monotony, don't expect to see a wide bestiary.
The sound also strives to go against convention. The music is generally happy and bouncy — something you'd expect from a platformer instead of a top-down adventure. The tone gets more serious during boss fights, but that is a rare occurrence given the scarcity of these fights. Despite the bouncy music, there are hints that it's intentional to lower your guard, such as when you hear whispers sprinkled throughout the cheery score. Like a few other elements, there isn't much variety in the song selection. It doesn't take long before you hear the same pieces over and over again, and while they aren't bad, the repetition means you're likely to relegate it to background noise.
Labyrinth Legends is an enjoyable, albeit brief, dungeon crawler that's designed to appeal to a broad cross-section of gamers. If you don't mind the repetition, you'll find a short game that's filled with some good puzzles and humor. It could have used a better multiplayer section, but as a single-player experience, it fits the bill. If you're craving a good dungeon crawler that isn't burdened by stats and minutiae, give this title a shot.
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