Monday, 31 December 2018

Missed Classic: Labyrinth - WON! and Final Rating

by Will Moczarski

Modern (Awkward) Theseus Diary #3: Finally. I’ve solved all of the nasty and absurd puzzles the labyrinth had to offer me and hacked the evil minotaur to pieces with a lightsaber. I don’t even know who hid it deep inside the labyrinth but you’ll have to beware of my jedi moves from now on. The original Theseus would have been such a proud Obi-Wan to my Luke – wait, that didn’t come out in my favour now, did it?

Welcome back to the Labyrinth! Last time, I finally made some progress by throwing a cream pie at a wraith and thus opening up the fifth and final level. I also reckoned that I might have to feed a witch disguised as a maiden to a hungry cave bear and if you are worried about the dangerous effects the Med Systems games seem to be having on me, let it be known: My other guess also proved to be correct, so I'm officially on a roll (excuse the pun)! Getting it right took almost half an hour, though. I really had to drop the witch at the bear's feet but I'm too slow to get there on time unless – I wear the roller skates. That seems like adventure game logic, so I'll let it slide. Wearing the roller skates is a real pain, though, as you cannot navigate like you used to, splashing into walls at every turn. Having figured that out, the parser posed the next serious problem. Just dropping the witch wouldn't work, so I tried to throw it, open the box at the right moment, kill the bear with it, attack the bear with it, persuade the witch to kill the bear (in a multitude of ways) and the other way round. The parser is REALLY sensitive here and the right solution was actually “feed bear”. As it's a two-word parser and “kill man” implies ‘with the sword’ if you happen to carry it, that doesn't seem too bad. It still took me some time to find the solution. Also, this is the only time the parser asks you “with what?” after you've stumbled onto the right command. You actually have to add “with maiden” to succesfully poison the bear and get rid of the witch in the same turn. Had I tried to feed the bear before (although why I should do that is still beyond me), I would possibly have received a clear hint at the solution but how should I have known that the bear was hungry in the first place?

It's also time to confess why Labyrinth takes me even longer than it should: it has a different savegame system than Deathmaze 5000 and this one does not work. Or I don't know how to make it work. No matter what I try, the screen freezes. I have an old-school list of commands in front of me to get to the last viable position and I need to type them every single time which is why I know the way to the sword, a spare torch, the skates, the lantern and the pie, a spare basket of food, the “maiden” and the wraith by heart now. Talk about useless knowledge clogging up our brains in the age of the world wide web – Labyrinth did it all in 1980!

Okay, I don't want to be unfair just because I'm too stupid to use the save function (or because the emulator doesn't accurately replicate it). It's still quite a drag. Anyhow. Feeding the bear with the maiden results in me finding an emerald which is probably good news. I go all the way to the wraith to serve it the cream pie but then my lantern vanishes in the magic fog along the way. I hope I didn't need that. Behind the wraith there is a set of black clothes it has left behind. I pick them up and am finally able to map the whole fifth floor. Surprisingly, the shut-off section containing the sword is most probably located on this level as I have exactly 4 by 2 rooms I cannot access here. Another riddle solved and another two items found: a nice red ruby to go along nicely with my emerald as well as a GE electric fan. When I turn around and try to leave the level there is suddenly a pit where I'm sure there wasn't one before. This one is deadly, too, so I think I know the solution: PTOOII! After backtracking the whole way the frustration is substantial as PTOOII doesn't do a thing. “Farting” across the pit the way I did in Deathmaze 5000 doesn't work, either, so I'm stuck. Again. Time for some more trial and error.

And just works. I can cross the pit unharmed. Why? I don't know. What happened was this: I'd just tried another way of telling the parser to turn on the fan to blow me across (yes, I've become desperate) and accidentally hit the “up” button in the process. What did I do differently to cross the pit unharmed? As I don't play this game for my own pleasure but for this well-respected blog, I am eager to find out. What do I have in my inventory that could have caused...damn, I know. It's the wraith's black clothes. They seem to actually turn me into a wraith and I can float across. I didn't even consciously remember that I'd put them on at some point and been mildly surprised that it even worked. I'd actually assumed I'd need them in the endgame, don't ask me why. One more puzzle down and the map is almost complete. Now I only have to figure out how to use (or destroy) the vending machine and how to kill the cave gnome, both on level 4. I know where to go next.

A pie for a pie...

Progress is slow again, though. As soon as I want to leave the dreadful level 5, an adventurer approaches and throws a pie at me, supposedly mistaking black-clothed me for a wraith. This repeated breech of the fourth wall is (thankfully!) not lethal and I pop up somewhere else in the labyrinth. Orientation is difficult but I soon find a landmark (a pit I recognize) and the adventurer actually provides me with a short-cut to the cave gnome, it seems. Endgame, here I come?

Oh well. I have next to no items left to fight the gnome and he always gets to use his magic on me. If there was a third magic word, I could really use it. Okay, here's where you have to insert a long, long passage of trial and error before I even thought to try out “PTOOII” and “Mevar”. How would you know that two teleportation spells would have an effect here? True, you wouldn't – I just got lucky. Saying “Mevar” inexplicably freezes the gnome and as I was born in a part of the world with a rather cold climate I absolutely can guess what the salt will be for. Unfortunately, I am not carrying it, so it's another painful loop around the whole labyrinth before I can vanquish the evil foe. At least it works and I am finally treated to the coins and well, I know where they belong, right?

Right. Back to the vending machine. I insert one coin and get matches. Nice, they will get my kerosene lantern to work, I assume. I insert another one and get batteries but cannot pick them up. “It is currently impossible”, the game says. When I turn around in frustration, there is a new box, however, just one room back, and it contains the batteries which I can now pick up. Why is that, I wonder? Is this maybe a bug or just pure evil? Well, actually it’s pretty nifty as according to the description the matches drop out and the batteries roll out, seemingly crossing a whole room in the process and then reappearing in a box. The third coin results in nothing. I had half expected the vending machine to vanish so I could explore the final parts of the labyrinth but it seems like that ain't gonna happen. However, this next part makes sense. What would a sane person do if the machine just swallowed their last coin? Punch it? Tilt it? Kick it? I try it all and kicking it is in fact the answer. The machine opens up and I can now enter the final part of the maze. (On my next run I even try to kick it without inserting a coin but fortunately that doesn't work). The game has one (final? please say final!) silver bullet in store, though, as the passage behind the vending machine is dark. I have torches, sure, I even got a kerosene lamp. It's still dark. And a real and true and veritable pain to map, accordingly. It takes me much longer than the whole level 5 and the walkable bits of the magic fog on level 1 combined to map the damn thing. Only “SPLAT!”s are guiding my way. At least there’s no minotaur turning up to rip me asunder. Quite some time later, I've got my final 29 rooms and the whole map of the labyrinth. 550 rooms, as promised. One more pit, one more item: a handle. What good could that be? The game calls it “a shaped handle with a button”, to be precise. Hmm, maybe pushing the button will do something? No, the parser doesn't know the word “push”. Too bad. The pit leads back to level 1 but drops me in the middle of the fog. I don't know where I am and get killed by the minotaur every time I try to escape. I'm at a loss.

The highest art is no art. The darkest dark is pretty darn dark.

After a while, I try experimenting with my new inventory items. Lighting the lantern with the matches doesn't do anything apparent but using the battery makes the fan whirl right away. If I tried that on the fog, maybe? Nope, doesn't work. Maybe that's not what it does? I decide to experiment a little more as there's not much else to do, and that turns out to be a good idea. The last idea I have is the right one: I look for a better starting point to be able to enter and exit the fog at my own will. Thus, I go back to level 1 (painful detour though it may be) and use the battery outside the fog before entering. That does the trick and the fog vanishes. I am now free to use the pit from level 4 all the way down to level 1. But how do I find the minotaur if it's not behind the vending machine and no longer in the fog? Or is he in the formerly foggy parts of the labyrinth? I test that theory for quite a while before I remember something I had almost forgotten about. When I had first picked up the ruby I had the emerald in my possession. On the fifth level it didn't matter but on returning to any of the other levels (well, level 1, as it's the only option) it attracted the minotaur to me who gladly obliged to rip me asunder after a few turns. I proceeded to drop the emerald on level 1 before entering level 5, making a mental note of the odd connection I soon forgot about.

Diamonds are a minotaur’s best friend

Now the last piece of the puzzle was really Deathmaze 5000 knowledge as that game also wouldn't know anything about no “push” verb but how did I use the dreaded calculator again in that game? Yes, I PRESSed it. PRESSing the button reveals the “shapely handle” to be a lightsaber and there is my weapon for killing the minotaur. Convinced that I have the perfect to-do list at hand I restored one final time and entered the labyrinth to finally slay the beast that has kept me trying so long already. And: success! Picking up the emerald immediately makes the minotaur turn up to rip me asunder. This time, however, the ripper becometh the ripped, and I hack the minotaur to pieces using my fancy lightsaber. The game is won, and once more I’m offered to be returned to reality. Let’s see how PISSED this game left me…

Reality (Sing it!) is the thing for me...

Session time: 2 hours
Total time: 8 hours

Final Rating

As with Deathmaze 5000, I had a lot of fun with Labyrinth. It’s a fairer game and if it’s not exactly well-designed, it still has its merits and strangely draws you in although the story is very, very simple. I suspect that the PISSED rating won’t be strong with this one, either, though.

Puzzles & Solvability: Labyrinth has clearly learned from its predecessor’s mistakes. Where Deathmaze 5000 had me using the in-game hint system as well as outside help, Labyrinth was much more solvable. It took some elbow grease and the broken savegame system really got to me after a while but that is not the game’s fault. It’s challenging but rarely unfair and the scattering of interesting combinations of items and opponents felt like a tiny hint of Zork III to me: 4.

Interface & Inventory: Still as basic as it gets. Nothing has changed and that’s not exactly surprising as Deathmaze 5000 and Labyrinth both came out in 1980. It’s still a marvel when you compare it to the TRS-80’s capabilities, it’s still very simplistic. I feel that I have been a bit harsh on this one last time but in comparison I can’t really correct my mistake: 1.

Story & Setting: Even simpler than the premise of Deathmaze 5000. The story is: find and kill the minotaur. Why? Well, it’s evil. Why? Don’t even. The game even contradicts its own story by making you encounter the minotaur over and over again before you’re ready to confront it. War and Peace this is not: 1.

Sound & Graphics: No sound, highly respectable graphics for 1980 – in this category, Labyrinth is exactly the same as Deathmaze 5000. It’s functional and I’d take it over Roberta’s distorted children’s drawings in Mystery House any day but that’s a matter of taste: 2.

Environment & Atmosphere: Labyrinth was a lot of fun and I don’t even know why. The pleasure of finding simple clues in a complicated and hostile environment seems to prevail in the end, and the atmosphere has absolutely nothing to do with the simplistic story and the repetitive graphics here. Still, this is where this game inexplicably shines: 3.

Dialogue & Acting: No acting, no ‘true’ dialogue – this is an adventure maze game and the descriptions are short and functional. The game’s ‘voice’ is even snippier than in Deathmaze 5000, though, and I could do without the passive-aggressive tone – maybe I just don’t like it when games call me a dolt. No cryptic final message this time, so I’ll have to deduct a point here: 1.

This seems about right. Labyrinth is better than Deathmaze 5000 because its puzzles are more balanced and it’s not as frustrating. Item placement and teleporters are still a bit unfair but all in all it’s more enjoyable because it’s more solvable. Deathmaze 5000 had the better atmosphere, I guess – Labyrinth is more basic and more repetitive, so I’ll refrain from using my discretionary point. From what I gather, Asylum, the next game, will be a mixture of both: much more story, still frustrating, yet solvable. I’m really looking forward to it, so stay tuned!


  1. 8 hours total sure sounds like it would be solvable "during the first week", in spite of the manual.

    1. True but I was really lucky on several occasions and had a fresh memory of "Deathmaze 5000" to boot. The advantage of playing different games by the same author(s) is that puzzles get easier once you've accustomed to a certain way of thinking, I guess.

  2. I appreciate that we have been able to experience these games with you! I cannot help but think that these games have a bit of "worst of both worlds" going on. They lack both the imagined detail of text adventures as well as the graphical punch of having individually designed rooms. It's like someone took the Wizardry interface and tried to make something like a text adventure out of it. To our modern sensibility, it is a strange mishmash.

    And yet, the series has a certain experimental charm.

    1. Thank you, Joe! I'm glad you enjoyed it! Your "worst of both worlds" analysis is spot on - it may well be a good reason for the very low PISSED ratings. I can relate to your "Wizardry" comparison, too, because it really feels similar. However, the first "Wizardry" game was released to the general public in 1981 (it seems somewhat unlikely to me that the Med Systems authors were at the Boston convention in 1980). Maybe the dungeons of "Akalabeth" were an inspiration but my money would be on "Hunt the Wumpus" since the first of the games ("Rat's Revenge") is so obviously a maze game only. Also, some of the puzzles in "Labyrinth" smelled a lot like "Adventure" (Crowther/Woods).

      After two of the games I have to say that the experimental charm really reflects on the enjoyment of the games. They seem to have some cult status among the TRS-80 nostalgia crowd and I would say deservedly so. They don't score so low because they're bad adventure games but because of their hybrid nature and the fact that the PISSED rating really has at least three categories the games simply can't excel in.

    2. "It's like someone took the Wizardry interface and tried to make something like a text adventure out of it."

      I'd argue this is a reasonable description of Wizardry IV.

    3. Thanks for the walkthrough! I remember this game very fondly. As simple as those graphics appear today, zipping through the 3D maze was mesmerizing at the time. There was just nothing else like it. I remember some of the puzzles, but the walkthrough brings back forgotten memories.

      Will be curious to see if you tackle Asylum. I remember solving Deathmaze and Lanbrynth. But never made it through Asylum.