Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Labyrinth of Time (Real Review)

When I’m asked what my favorite videogames are, the answers I give usually draw confusion even among people who play videogames themselves. My tastes tend to run to the obscure, for one reason or another, and to give one example, I’ve never really seen what the big deal was about the Super Mario series. One of my favorite, most oft-replayed games, is a case in point when it comes to obscurity.

You’re an officer worker living a dreary life represented by a monochrome filter. On the subway ride home one Friday night, you suddenly find yourself pulled out of your nice safe place in the space-time continuum by a strange man with wings. This proves to be Daedalus. Yes, that Daedalus, the legendary genius who created the Labyrinth of Crete to imprison the Minotaur. His old boss King Minos has indentured him again, taking advantage of his supernatural abilities as a ghost to create a new labyrinth. One that crosses time and space. With it, Minos can invade all eras and conquer them all at once. But not if you can find a way to destroy the labyrinth before he has the chance. With that, Daedalus vanishes.

As promised, the game does bridge various locations and eras from history, although some of them you’d only really know from the decorations on the walls and name on the text bar above your interface icons. You’ll be in a hotel one moment only to go through a door and find yourself on an abandoned fairground with a gigantic clown face complete with menacing laughter daring you to enter a hall of mirrors. Or in a 50’s diner one second and as soon as you try to get into the bathroom, suddenly in a hedge maze.

Yes, there are a lot of mazes in this game. It’s a labyrinth, there have to be. Let me hasten to assure anyone who hates mazes that it isn’t as bad as it probably sounds. In general, I don’t like mazes in adventure games myself, since I’m not a big fan of mapping. Particularly, because it usually involves tons of dying and reloading because of traps. The nice thing is, the game maps its play area for you as you explore it. There’s a fair bit of backtracking in this game, but as soon as you’ve solved a maze once, all you have to do is click the button on the bottom right of the screen to see how to do it again.

Even the part about lots of deaths to find where not to go is absent. This was around the time when the people who made point and click adventures started deciding, as a group, that it was rude to repeatedly murder the people who shelled out money to buy their games. And so, the long-running series that hadn’t been murdering their customers since the 80’s started not murdering them at all. There are two or three ways to make the game unwinnable, but in general if you seem to have hit a dead end, you just haven’t looked in the right corner or tried a key in the right lock yet.

Also, it's nice to see a game about saving all of creation that still has a touch of humor about itself.

The adventure game maxim of “save early, save often” to avoid getting killed or stuck is something of an awkward proposition in Labyrinth. Instead of doing what most games did and giving you a save game interface where you could type in a little description of the file to serve as an instant reminder of what you were doing at the time of the save, instead you get nine little check boxes. The only real way to have any idea of your progress is to open up a game and flick through your inventory and map to see how full they are.

While the game isn’t easy by any stretch either, the puzzles do make sense when you step back and think about them, and take the time to read the couple of notes and books there are to find. And ultimately winning the game does involve you finding a way to change history. Which it really should, you know? What’s the point of going back in time if you don’t get to dick around with it, after all?

Where the game really shines is in its soundtrack, however. Every track on it alternately made me feel like I was on a quest in a strange place and needed to do some investigating, or that I was alone in a place outside of space and time and that literally anything could happen if I wasn’t careful. I don’t mind saying that even though I enjoy this game plenty, the music is what really transforms it into something memorable.

But being memorable was the game’s biggest problem, in a way. It had the misfortune of hitting store shelves at about the same time as Myst and The 7th Guest. Those games hogged all the attention of the crowd that plays these kinds of games, leaving The Labyrinth of Time ignored. Just to pour salt in the wound, they always intended for it to go to sequel.

Still, guess we’ll always have…whatever that 50’s diner was called.

Oh, and in case you're stuck, here's a walkthrough.

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