Wednesday 7 October 2020

Missed Classic: Labyrinth - And I Walk Along Darkened Corridors

Written by Joe Pranevich

If you love old genre TV shows such as Doctor Who or Star Trek, you have a pretty good idea what a gravel quarry looks like. These shows are often equally famous for their corridor scenes, short segments of hallway that can be tweaked to look like whatever part of the ship they need to show. Using and reusing set pieces like these helped ensure that episodes could be shot quickly at a minimum of cost. While Labyrinth the film takes great pains to make every scene unique, Labyrinth the game seems to have been made with this type of cost-cutting in mind. Over and over again, I had to explore long segments of nearly-identical corridors to make sure I wasn’t missing an item or an event. (Spoiler: I missed one.) While the environments became more dynamic as I neared the end, the vast majority of the playtime in this game is just running down halls and checking doors, mentally marking off distances and landmarks to distinguish one near-identical segment from the other. While computer games do not have to pay for sets, it costs money to design interesting environments. It’s a shame this game didn’t make that investment. To augment the somewhat boring screenshots, I will augment my coverage this time out with pictures from the film. Labyrinth is beautiful and beyond what the 8-bit graphics of the Commodore 64 could manage.

Last time, we started our exploration by solving a simple text adventure before getting sucked into the “movie”. We have only thirteen hours to find the center of the maze before we become David Bowie’s slave forever. I can think of worse things than being circa-1986 David Bowie’s personal slave, but the game takes it as a given that it is a Bad Thing. Once in the labyrinth, we discovered (but did nothing with) Hoggle the dwarf and solved the first puzzle by walking through graffiti spelling out the word “door”. What type of mysteries will the game throw at us today? Let’s play!

At least they got the long, uneventful length of the hall correct.

The Brick Hallway

We start in the “Brick Hallway”. To respect the game’s roots as an evolved text adventure, the game opens each location with a title card with the area’s name. In this case, the label fits as it is just a featureless hallway with five doors leading “north”. Four of the doors are closed, while the one in the far east is open. Unlike previous rooms that looped around to the left and right, this one has solid walls. It takes some time to walk from one end to the other, but it is doable.

Exploring from end to end, I discover a peach and a vending machine. As the peach in the film is poison, I will not be eating it any time soon, but I pocket it anyway. The vending machine will sell me a rock for a quarter; I’m not sure why I’d want that but I’m happy to have a rock. (Everyone wants a rock, after all.) Not having any better ideas, I head out the open door first and find myself in an identical hall. It has another vending machine, but this one sells perfume. I have enough cash to buy both, but perhaps buying the rock wasn’t the correct choice after all. I also pocket a crystal ball that I discover on the floor. Like before, this hall is mostly closed doors with the one on the far east being open; I pick that one first.

Hey look, I’ve made a friend! And am about to be thrown into an oubliette.

That leads to a third variation of the exact same hall, but with a new surprise: a goblin! We can hear its footsteps from across the room. The monster charges straight towards me and all I can do is run. I can get him to back off momentarily if I “hit” him, but not far enough. He opens a trapdoor under me and I fall into a pit, one of the movie’s famous “oubliettes”. (I have a good vocabulary, but I had to look this up: “a secret dungeon with access only through a trapdoor in its ceiling.”) This pit has a coin slot embedded in the wall and I escape by inserting another quarter; I emerge at the beginning of the maze near Hoggle. Since I am an inpatient sort, I restore back before the goblin catches me. On the next pass, I throw the rock at him, but the mix of joystick and keyboard controls makes this extra difficult. This game would be much better if it paused while we used the text menus!

With no indication of what I am supposed to do, I traverse all of the doors one-by-one to explore the whole place. In a few minutes, I confirm that we have three near-identical hallways to explore: one with a vending machine on the left, one with it on the right, and one with the goblin. Each door randomly takes you to one of the other two rooms, but all exits are one-way; there is no path back. Taking a brute-force approach, I manage to get most of the doors open before I find one that goes somewhere else: Alph and Ralph. Why that one was any different is anyone’s guess.

Two sides of the same coin?

Look at those socks!

Alph and Ralph

The new hallway has gray stones instead of brick and only two nondescript white doors. The guardians of this area are difficult to describe, but they are a bit like a face playing card with the “head” on both the top and the bottom. I talk to Alph, only to be informed that I picked the wrong one and he’s actually Ralph. I thought they were top head and bottom head, but it turns out that there are two (four?) of them. (So what are the names of the bottoms? Or are they the same being?) In any event, he helpfully tells me that there are two doors: one of which will take me to the castle and the other to certain doom. However, he won’t help me until I open every door in the Brick Hallway.

I may have sworn at the game at this point.

The exits to the east and west go back to the hallway and fortunately the open doors were not reset. Opening most of the doors was easy, but it was difficult to get to the middle doors in the goblin’s hallway without being caught. Since doors drop you off in seemingly-random places in the hall, I find one that gets me close enough to the middle door that I can open it and pass through before being caught. Did I mention how little I enjoy trying to move while manipulating the text menus? Once I open the door, I find my way back to Alph and Ralph. They thank me for opening all of the doors as it was getting stuffy in there. When I prompt them for the hint they offered, they just say “figure it out for yourself”. This may have been followed by more swearing.

Thankfully, the “puzzle” is simple since each of the doors have signs just inside that say whether they go “To The Castle” or “To Certain Death”. Just for giggles, I save and go through the wrong one. That takes me to a bottomless pit where I fall and fall and fall… and eventually reach the bottom and die. I restore and take the door to the castle.

You need some lo-lo-loving arms.

I'd say clap your hands, but maybe wait until I'm safe...

Wall of Hands

I walk through the door, but I still immediately fall down a trapdoor. Before I can worry too much about it, we are caught mid-fall by a group of hands protruding from the wall. While I am grateful for their assistance, the hands seem quite full of themselves. They cannot stop talking about the “millions” of people they rescued from falling to their doom. (Now that I read it more closely, they might mean that “millions” have fallen to their doom because of them. It’s not phrased well.) With so many people saved-- or so much blood on their hands-- they complain that they are not appreciated.

At this point, I am still falling slowly but I have enough time to figure out what to do. With no “thank” verb, I am left with “congratulating” them instead. The “helping hands” are pleased by my thoughtfulness and insist that it’s no bother at all. They pull me back up the shaft and I can proceed through the maze.

Friend or foe?
The goblins totally would have given me nightmares as a kid.

The Stone Corridor

There is no way to say this nicely, but “Stone Corridor” isn’t that different from “Brick Hallway”. This location is a bit more varied than before with a mix of doors, halls, and ladders leading out, although all of them do essentially the same thing. I pocket another discarded rock and peach; these goblins need to learn not to litter. As before, passing through the doors takes me to near-identical rooms and I must cycle through them all to make sure that I explore the nooks and crannies of this space. Along the way, I locate a pair of shears and another discarded crystal ball, plus something new: a goblin standing guard in front of a door. Unlike the others, he doesn’t chase me, but there’s also no obvious way to get him to move. What is special about that door? What could be behind it?

I explore further and eventually find ways into a “Hedge Maze” and back to the “Wall of Hands”, but nothing that helps me get past that goblin. I worry that I am missing a puzzle, but all I can do is press forward and see if the solution presents itself later.

Passages covered in vines! That’s new!

A maze in a maze is amazing. Shame it isn’t a corn maze.

The Hedge Maze

The Hedge Maze works exactly the way that the previous passages worked, except this one is green. Some of the exits are covered in vines and we must use the shears to unblock them. There are new background decorations such as park benches and urns, but I find no way to interact with either. (Urns, in the film, were secret passages. The same does not appear to be true here.) Just like the brick hallway, one of the passages has a goblin guard that chases us and makes exploration difficult.

Following my usual brute-force exploration, I locate a third crystal ball as well as passages to the Stone Corridor and Wise Man’s Garden. Just like before however, the goblin appears to be guarding a puzzle that I cannot easily solve: a vine-covered doorway in a spot that I cannot reach before he nabs me. Even when I get there in time to cut the vines, he still moves during the cutting animation and I’m always captured before he is through. I leave it for now and pass through a different vine-covered passage towards… a prompt to change disks! Am I halfway through the game already? It does not feel like I’ve accomplished more than collecting litter.

We have depth!

Bird-brained comes to mind here.

The Wise Man’s Garden

When the second disk loads, we are treated to an amazing sight: depth! Up to this point, every space was no deeper than a hallway but made up for it with many screen-widths (of nothing, usually) on either side. Now we have a more traditional adventure game setting that is only two screens wide but with more depth. Did they switch to a different engine for the second disk? Regardless, a wise old man sits in the center of the maze. A closer look-- or at least a decent memory for the film-- reveals that he has a bird on his head. There’s also a red plant of some kind just in the background.

I speak to the wise man and he imparts the wisdom that “the way out is all you have left”, then demands payment for further wisdom. I interpret the “left” bit as a clue that the exit is down the left side of the screen. The side passages mostly do not lead anyway, only teleporting us to one of the other entrances to this garden. One of the left-hand ones instead takes us back to the Hedge Maze. I nearly turn around, but realize quickly that it is a different segment of the maze than I had explored previously. The halls this time are insanely long, at least 4-5x longer than the already annoyingly-long rooms we explored before. It takes minutes to walk from one side to the other. My brute force approach-- which required me to establish a landmark near one of the edges so that I could tell which nearly-identical room I was in-- doesn’t work when I have to walk several minutes (counting doors) to know what room I’m in, then walk back out the right “next” door. It’s hell. I’m not even sure there are multiple rooms; we may just keep ending up in a different part of the same long one. I don’t have the patience to work this out and eventually just slice through a vine-covered walkway and end up in the next area, “The Door Knockers”. I hope that I did not miss anything.

I’m just happy for a finite room to explore.

There’s a joke in this, but I cannot find it.

The Door Knockers & The Forest

Much like Alph and Ralph, “The Door Knockers” is a small area containing two obvious exits, one through each of the two doors. We can try to speak to each of the knockers, but one of them cannot hear me thanks to the ring stuck through his ears. The other provides the advice that if I “get trapped”, a “door isn’t always a door”. Is that general advice for the oubliettes or something more specific?

While exploring this space, I made what may be a major find completely by accident: I had entered “take” by the ear-clogged knocker to try to remove the ring from his ear, but instead my character grabbed a key that had been left in the door. If you squint, you can barely see it in the above screenshot. It’s possible that I would have had to have found it before I could open the door and pass through, but I didn’t go back to check.

Determining what door to pass through is, at least, easy: the knocker part of the right door is missing and so we cannot knock on the door to open it. I head left instead and find myself in a forest.

A hallway... with trees!
The forest in the film was suitably spooky!

The forest is identical to all of the other hallway areas so far, except this one is a different shade of green. While the previous section made comprehensive exploration difficult due to the size of the rooms, this one makes it impossible by having the rooms loop around. With no fixed points like edges to work from, I’m just exploring randomly. The on-screen map has also disappeared. With no strategy, I just zipped through random doors again and again. If I ended up back at the Hedge Maze, I would restore and try again. Eventually, I discover a door to the Bog of Eternal Stench, but I have no idea whether I missed any items or puzzles along the way.

The game is starting to exhaust me. In theory, I like that the authors keep throwing new wrinkles to make exploration difficult, but there is no payoff to any of it. We might find a rock or a crystal ball, but I haven’t found either of those in a while. There are no, or very few, special encounters in these spaces. It’s just not fun. Scenes like the Wise Man or the Door Knockers help to break up the time, but those spaces generally take much less to explore.

Finally! Something different!

The bridge in the film is a bit more ominous, although this is one of the most “sound stage” environments of the film.

He’s a dog that rides a dog. That has deep philosophical implications.

Bog of Eternal Stench & Persecution of Ludo

As if the game sensed my frustration, the next several sections offer some of the most unique and interesting environments of the game so far. In the film, the Bog of Eternal Stench is described as something akin to a farting marsh, but here it’s just brown water with a bridge next to it. Sir Didymus stands guard and will not let me cross without permission. In the film, this is one of the memorable riddles because all the characters needed to do was ask his permission. In the game, that subtlety is lost as he wants us to rescue Ludo from the goblins before we are allowed to cross.

Leaving the screen drops us into a very different sequence from anything this game has thrown at us before. It bears a bit of explanation:

Don’t worry, Ludo! I’ll rescue you!

I’d rather not know what they are poking him with.

Much like with the Wise Man, we find ourselves in a portion of the maze with some depth. Ludo hangs from a tree in the center while goblins patrol the area. If we get too close, they chase and toss us down trapdoors, so best to avoid them if we can. Scattered around this area are a number of tiles that change color as we walk over them. Working out what to do here is extra difficult because you cannot easily enter commands while running away. I could miss an “obvious” command or object combination just because navigating to it quickly is impossible. Crossing the tiles causes them to change color, but I don’t immediately understand what is happening. After several attempts, I make it to Ludo, but the game kindly tells me that I cannot cut him down until I eliminate the goblins. It’s not much of a clue, but I’ll take it!

It is not too difficult to work out what the panels do. When you step on them, they change color: first purple, then red. After that point, stepping on them again turns them into trapdoors. The trick is to (very carefully) maneuver around the maze to trigger panels into the “red” zone, while getting the goblins to follow you across. It takes trial and error, but I am eventually able to do it. One confusion is that the goblins do not trigger the panels unless you are already on “red”, but presumably that is because otherwise they’d be dumb enough to fall through without you ever needing to do anything. I cut down Ludo and am immediately transported to the hedge maze with a note that “Sir Didymus will be pleased.” Great! I have to maneuver my way back through the maze and past the door knockers and forest again, but eventually I arrive back at the bog to see that Sir Didymus is no longer there and we can saunter across the bridge.

That turns out to be more difficult than expected. For the first time in the game, walking is “slippery” and not always in the intended direction. We have to cross slowly, but not too slowly since that seems to cause you to fall off as well. Each time I hit the water, I receive a message that I will stink for the remainder of the game, but I reload rather than deal with it. My guess is that the perfume will help, but I might need it later. After a dozen or more tries, I make it across the bridge and arrive at the Goblin Village. We’re nearly to the end of the game!
Suburban, but with goblins.

Real estate prices are surprisingly reasonable. 

The Goblin Village & Castle

The Goblin Village is another refreshing area, though it may just be a reskin of the Wise Man’s Garden. It’s a wide-open space, two screens wide, with numerous houses to explore. Each house teleports you to another entrance, just like in the garden. Unlike that garden however, goblins wander around the area and will chase after us if we are seen. One of the doors takes us back to the bog, while another teleports us all the way back to the Wise Man! I restore whenever I get a bad result to find the one that moves us forward in the plot. Eventually, through no great wisdom, I discover a door to the goblin castle’s main gate.

How can we get the door open?

Just push?

In the film, the heroes have no difficulty opening the gate, but it’s a much greater challenge for me. Goblins patrol the walls above, but they ignore us for now. My key doesn’t appear to be the correct one-- if I use it in the door, I get tossed down an oubliette. I experiment a bit and without any real ideas I end up using “call Ludo” to see what happens. He’s too scared to come, but that opens up a new “call rocks” command. Using that asks Ludo to send some rocks rolling our way and they appear in a pile by the door. The obvious conclusion is that I need rocks to solve this puzzle. What can you do with rocks in this game? Throw them!

The next bit is half frustration and half mini-game. We can toss rocks at the goblins, but it’s harder than it looks. You have to find the right pixel to stand on in the foreground so that the rock arcs up and over the castle wall. We also must aim a bit left since we are right handed. With a few practice throws, I hit one of the goblins! Unfortunately, that only causes him to change direction briefly. I can also aim for the red dots (targets?), but while they change color when I strike them, they don’t seem to do anything. Even activating them both at once does nothing. There is a ring dangling near the door, but I do not have any way to reach it. With nothing left to do here, I backtrack to the Goblin Village and finish exploring the buildings.

It’s going to get me! 

There is a fantastic fan-made reference book for this film. Check it out!

I’ve avoided backtracking before, but that seems to be the right move this time. One of the buildings leads to another new area, the “Underground”. It’s another hallway system like we’ve seen so many times before, but with a twist: immediately after arriving, I am attacked by a group of goblins pushing a nasty-looking mechanical wall. If it catches me, I am saved at the last moment by a trapdoor, but it’s still not a pleasant fate. There are some doors that I can run through, but there’s a new wrinkle because we can only go through each door once before it locks. Because of this, it is very easy to become trapped against a wall and be shunted back in the maze.

I discover that if I drop the log (that I found in the previous post) in front of the machine, it tries to smash it and then gets turned around. The log also becomes a plank that I can collect. This gives me a couple of extra seconds, but the only door that it gives me new access to leads back to the “Door Knockers”. That’s a disappointment. With a ton of trial and error, I manage to find a route that lets me avoid the machine and pick up another spare crystal ball. (That’s four now.) The area also has a neat mechanic where it starts off as several disconnected hallways, but the machine smashes through the connecting walls when it reaches one. The area gradually becomes larger the longer we are in it and the whole effect is well-done. I’d much rather have an interesting and challenging hallway rather than an impossibly long one.

Unfortunately, this is where I become stuck. The only exit I can locate from the Underground is to the Door Knockers and there is nothing obvious there that is new to do. I take stock of my open puzzles, but some of them would require backtracking hours:
  • There are two doors guarded by goblins in earlier areas that I am unable to access: one where the goblin stands unmoving and the other where it’s just a lack of time to trim the hedge before being caught.
  • I cannot pass through the right-hand door at the Door Knockers.
  • I cannot enter the castle via the main gate, either because I’m not doing the correct thing with the goblins or the targets.
  • There could be things that I missed in the longer hallway areas.
I resorted to taking a hint and discovered what I feared: I missed a bracelet on the ground someplace back in the Hedge Maze. Worse, we can only pick it up on the first disk; once we moved onto the Wise Guy, we became permanently dead-ended. My only option is to restore back a couple of hours and play from there.

Time played: 4 hr 15 min
Total time: 5 hr 45 min
Inventory: crystal ball (x4), dollar bill (x2), key, peach, perfume, plank, popcorn, rock (x2), shears, and ticket.

I apologize for the delay in getting this post out. The end of September was a busy one and I lost most of my playing and writing time. I had even hoped to do a one-off birthday post for myself, but that will have to wait until next year. I am thankful to all of the writers who have stepped up over the last couple of weeks to keep the site more than supplied with adventure game goodness.

I seriously recommend that you check out the Visitor’s Guide to the Labyrinth by Aelia Petro. A lot of love went into that fan project and it is more than worth a look for any lovers of this film.
See you next week for the conclusion!


  1. Who's that knocking on the wall?

    I heard a sound, I turned around, I turned around to find the thing that made the sound

    1. Dangit, you beat me to that specific lyric.

    2. I just love all of these TMBG references!

    3. It's hard to not watch a Henson film without having "Puppet Head" caught in my brain. I did not want to overload the post with unrelated TMBG references.

      Alas, but we are many years from being able to play this:

    4. Not true, because I have no idea about what it is you guys are talking about.

    5. I didn't know what "Puppet Head" was supposed to mean either and had to Google it. Seems like a pretty deep cut if it's from a 1985 demo. I'm not that dedicated a fan. (In fact maybe it would not be accurate to call me a "fan"; just "Flood" was a big deal for my high school peer group and I also have "Apollo 18", is about the size of it.)

    6. Oh boy... "Puppet Head" was They Might Be Giant's first music video from their debut album (not demo). That was before their breakout with Flood, but not exactly a deep cut.

      And for Morpheus, we the title of this post (and a few other bits) are from the song "Fingertips" which is about as disconnected and disjointed it is possible for a song to be, intended to mimic those old TV commercials for music collections that play a second of each song so you know what's on them.

    7. Well, tell it to Google, who appears to be trusting

    8. It may have been on their demo tape(s), I have no idea. I only know it from the album and the video.

    9. Ah, makes sense, I've only ever really listened to Ana Ng off the compilation Left of the Dial, as I'm not much of an alt rock person.

  2. I have never played this game, so this is just my own curiosity and not a spoiler/hint: what happens if you try to throw or give the crystals or peaches to the goblins?

    1. I didn't think about either of those, but I will try it out tonight.

      The big issue with the goblins is that there isn't much time to experiment. I already can barely do anything when they are around because they come quickly and navigating the command menus is effectively impossible. Since there is so little time to experiment, I didn't try as many random things as I perhaps could have.

      Throwing the crystals isn't something that I had considered at all at the time.

    2. In the hallway screens, there is no "throw" verb-- another confusion about the interface that is likely to be seen as convenient but just comes off as confusing.

      That said, I can GIVE the goblin the crystal ball and he gives me a message that he is happy to take it off my hands. In the Hedge Maze at least, that causes him to stop moving but he still doesn't let me pass him. That could have been a way to get past if I timed that right in the correct locations. Thanks for the tip!

    3. In the hallway screens, there is no "throw" verb--

      But in this post you described throwing something in a hallway? i.e.:

      That leads to a third variation of the exact same hall, but with a new surprise: a goblin! [...] Since I am an inpatient sort, I restore back before the goblin catches me. On the next pass, I throw the rock at him, but the mix of joystick and keyboard controls makes this extra difficult.

      (Also, I assume you meant iMpatient, not iNpatient. Unless you are writing this from hospital...)

  3. Its interesting to see an early game not just be different from the usual philosophy of a company, but to be so different that its essentially alien. Putting an essential item in a maze and missable seems to be the cruelest thing I've seen in an adventure game. Maybe beat by the book puzzle in Last Crusade.

    1. On one hand, the game is called "Labyrinth" and it's based on a film about a girl trying to find her way through a maze.

      On the other hand, maze after maze after maze just got to be exhausting, especially as they actively undermined your ability to map them. (Also: the layout is different based on your "favorite color" and other things so different players would experience different maze layouts. That is cool, but means that you cannot just know the way out.)

    2. Oh, that's nice, a maze that changes depending on how you play. There's no more maybe about that then. :)

  4. I don't remember why i quited playing this game back in the day, but reading this post is a big clue to the reason. Gosh, it's almost unbeleavable that the next game from this company turn out to be one of the more influential adventure game of all time

    1. It's not a great game, unfortunately. And bringing Douglas Adams on board, a man known more for his written humor than his visual humor, was a bad move. This has very little of the joy that he brings to his writing.

  5. Loves this game on the commodore 64. I might be confusing the game with the movie, but I believe the plank can be used to escape the oubliettes, by placing it against the wall and using it as a door? I think there are several ways to escape from each, even by chatting up Jareth (whom I believe you can 'call' any time?)... This might play on that comment that doors aren't doors?

    1. I'm writing up the final review of the game and you are right about the many ways. If anything, this game is surprisingly replayable because you can get different puzzles in some cases. I also think that if I was playing it straight-- going back through the maze when I make a wrong turn instead of restoring-- I'd be hitting more puzzles that you don't see on one trip. (Alph and Ralph, for example, have more variations than just the one that I saw and there are tons of oubliette variants.)

      I never tried to "Call Jareth" after the first screen. I wonder what that would do...