Friday, 16 October 2020

Missed Classic: Labyrinth - Won! And Final Rating

Written by Joe Pranevich

There is a special place in my heart for licensed games. They are often pretty terrible, but five out of our “Top 10” (really top thirteen) games are licensed properties. Our #1 game as of this writing is Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, a game that LucasArts will develop only six years after this one. Even when they aren’t good, I take perverse joy in seeing how these properties are adapted. Labyrinth is no exception and while I cannot say that the game is as good as I was hoping, I am glad that I detoured to experience it.

When we left off last week, I was so close to completing the game that I could taste it. I stood outside Jareth’s castle but was unable to open the gate. Even when I found an alternate underground passage, I remained trapped at a closed door with no way to open it. I gave up and learned from a walkthrough that I missed an item (a bracelet) several hours earlier. Worse, there was no way back to retrieve it. To beat the game, I will have to restore an old save game from when I explored the Hedge Maze the first time, but this time locate the missing bracelet before I move on. While reading through the hints, I also realized that there are optional areas and puzzles that I missed; I’ll discuss those at the end.

Without further delay, let’s rewind time. Can I defeat the game now, or will I get trapped in another deadend?

The key to everything, just abandoned on the ground.

If there is one thing that I have learned to do since starting to review adventure games, it is to swear loudly at the unfairness of the world. If there are two things, the second is taking frequent save games and (when possible) emulator snapshots. Thankfully, it was no problem at all for me to locate the Hedge Maze save and drop myself back in the action. I’m not looking forward to solving everything over again, but at least I know how to do it now.

Finding the missing bracelet wasn’t difficult and I have no idea how I missed it. If you look at the above screenshot, you will notice three dots in the lower map: the large black dot is me, the second is the bracelet, and the white dot is the approaching goblin. My best guess is that I was so focused on getting away from the goblin that I didn’t notice that the map had something to investigate on it. Although it doesn’t look that way from the screenshot, the goblin is quite close. There is no way for me to get the bracelet (or slice through the vine-covered door) without being caught. The interface is bad enough, and the goblin moves quickly enough, that I cannot “hit” him to get enough time, then navigate through the menu to “take”, and then run off to the left. After several attempts, I grab the bracelet and resign myself to being captured. As usual, I am thrown into an oubliette.

A boring, empty room.

Once down in the hole, I must find my way out. Last time, the oubliette that I solved had a trapdoor when I walked on the right spot. I am not lucky enough this time to see the same one. I try a few things like talking to Jared and “adumbrate elephant”, but nothing works and I worry that I will remain stuck before I bump up against the back wall and start to climb it. That… was obvious, I suppose.

I ascend to Alph and Ralph, the two-headed dog creatures that I thought looked like playing cards. Last time out, selecting the correct door was easy because they were clearly labeled as: “to the castle” and “certain doom”. The pair tell me that they removed the signs to make it more difficult, but they clearly did not decide to make it too difficult because Alph just flat out tells me that his door leads to doom when I ask. (Ralph is not pleased about this.) I take the correct door and find myself back at the Wall of Hands. The puzzle there is exactly the same-- I just need to “congratulate” them-- and I’m back at the Hedge Maze.

They aren’t much to look at in the film, either.

This time, I decide I will also take a run at that vine-covered door near the bracelet. Like before, I have to snip it and then get caught by the goblin. To get back, I must solve another oubliette then take another pass through Alph and Ralph. In this case, the oubliette has a coin slot on the wall; a door opens up when I insert a quarter. Alph and Ralph have another variation as well: this time they say they are both liars. One of them tells me what door leads to certain doom when I ask, so I simply take that and am through. Simple! That turns out to be a waste of time because this difficult-to-access door just leads to a different spot on the Stone Corridor which with no secrets I can see. Nothing lost, I suppose. Time to move on.

The Wise Man in the center of the maze also has a different puzzle. Instead of the “way out is all you have left” riddle, he gives me a clue about the hands of a clock. (Unfortunately, I neglected to screen capture the exact text.) This inspired me to start at the north door and work my way clockwise through each all the way around. At the final door, I am teleported to the second disk Hedge Maze. Nothing new happens here, or in the forest, or rescuing Ludo, or crossing the bog, or even at the goblin village. If you want a recap of all of those events, feel free to just reread the previous post. I finally emerge at the Door Knockers where I was blocked last time.

How are you at two different points in the labyrinth?

You might have guessed by now, but the “bracelet” that we picked up is actually the knocker-ring for the right-side door. The knocker refuses to let me put it back in his mouth, but I’m sure there is a way. In the film, Sarah accomplishes this by holding the knocker’s nose until it has no choice but to open up. Here, I just ask him questions then jam it in during his speaking animation. It takes a few tries because the interface is so awful, but I manage it before long. It’s a clever little puzzle! With the ring in place, I knock on the door and it opens. We’re in Jareth’s castle!

Inside the castle is perhaps the first area of the game completely unrelated to the film: a piano hallway. This confuses me so much that I actually search draft scripts online to see if it was cut, but it does not appear to be. Given Jareth’s love of music in the film, it fits well enough, but just not something they did. We can tell it’s a piano not only because of the half-height black columns, but also because they are grouped in sets of two and three, just like on a real piano. (See? The adult piano lessons I have been taking are coming in handy!) This area appears to be another maze like before, but I do not find any paths out or deeper into the castle.

A secret door in the piano puzzle!

The solution comes when I discover a part of the wall that does look quite right-- it is missing a black key! When I use the plank that I have been carrying around in the spot, a secret door appears. That door is locked, but thankfully the key that I picked up (by accident) the first time through the Door Knockers is the correct one. This is another clever puzzle. That’s two for two! The game is getting better.

Once through the door, I emerge into Jareth’s lair: a twisty little maze of gravity all different. The room is inspired by M. C. Escher and has doors and floors located everywhere, including the walls and ceiling. Entering a door takes you to someplace else in the maze, quite often upside-down or sideways. If we approach a wall, we can walk straight up. It’s only two screens wide and two screens tall, but it’s an impressive design and easily the most striking area in the game.

Oh no! My time is up.

This is one of the most striking sets in the film.

Jareth is running around this space as well and I really don’t know what to do with him. He just walks around, entering doors and popping out in other locations in the maze. Unfortunately, I spoiled myself a bit on the solution by accident. While looking for the hint that would get me past where I was stuck, I unfortunately saw that you need to use the crystal balls to defeat Jareth. (Those were some of the objects that I needed to avoid a dead end.) I didn’t know what to do with them, but it doesn’t take much to realize that there is a unique throwing animation here so that is likely the right track.

Actually hitting Jareth with a ball turns out to be tricky because you have to get close enough and on the same plane as him. This involves a lot of trial and error to get to a door that gets you close enough. Mapping may have helped, but there’s no obvious time limit and Jareth isn’t otherwise threatening so I just wander around looking like a fool until I manage it. Once I had him in my sights, I needed to fire off the “throw” command quickly. Fortunately, you can pre-load a command in the interface to trigger when you press “fire” on the joystick. This probably would have come in handy before if I had realized it, at least I might have been able to preload “hit goblin” during some of the difficult escapes earlier. Despite the walkthrough saying that I needed to have several crystal balls to be safe, I never lost any as I threw them. This could have been a bug or just an error in the walkthrough.

Once I hit him, we are whisked away to the “Final Confrontation!”

Our final confrontation!

The final room shows the whole world crumbling away. Jareth intones, “I am still your master and you must remain with me until the end of time.” The regular interface is gone, but we get to choose how we want to respond. Options range from the movie-correct answer (“You have no power over me.”) to the silly (“Throw some towels over me.”). I select the correct answer and Jareth transforms into an owl and flies off. We are whisked back to the movie theater to enjoy the rest of the film in peace. The end!

Pour some sugar on me?

We don’t even get free popcorn.

Time played: 2 hr 40 min
Total time: 8 hr 25 min

Whew! That was fun at times and tremendously frustrating at other times. With the game behind me, I read through the rest of the walkthrough and watch Youtube videos to see what I missed. There is quite a lot. If there is one thing we need to give this game credit for, it has a lot of optional content. I apologize for not playing through again to get screenshots of all of the unseen stuff, but I stole some screenshots from the Youtube playthroughs that will have to do instead.

Here’s a few things that I missed:
  • I could have returned home to collect a camcorder at the beginning of the game. This could have triggered a series of events where I could befriend a fiery, one of the puppet fire dancers. If I did this properly, I would have been rewarded (somehow?) with his body parts: his head could tell me what paths to go down in mazes, while his arm could have reached the lever outside the castle. That door would have taken me to the underground as well, so I still would have needed the bracelet.
A Firey from a longplay video on Youtube.
  • We could have passed the goblin guard in the stone corridor by insulting him to get him to chase us, then giving him a peach. The fruit puts goblins to sleep! I expect that may have come in handy when I needed to quickly grab the bracelet. We also could have grabbed the goblin’s helmet while he was asleep, giving us camouflage.
  • Many of the areas had alternate puzzles if you visited them more than once, as we saw with Alph and Ralph and the Wise Man. This is presumably because if you played the game “straight” (and didn’t restore when you got caught), you would have to pass those areas again and again. It’s a good idea in theory but it’s never a good idea to reward a good player with seeing less content. Notably, there are many variants of the oubliette puzzles (of which I may have seen 3-4) including the “famous” elephant solution, some cases where you can talk to people in the theater to help you, and weird other things.
  • Ludo could have built an alternate bridge across the Bog of Eternal Stench. I’m not sure why this was necessary. Perhaps it was less slippery?
Ludo can build an alternate path across the bog! (From this other video.)
  • Most of the puzzles and mazes are different based on the choices that you made in the beginning of the game. I chose to be a boy with a red shirt, but different genders or colors result in a moderately different game. This, plus all of the optional content, would have made replaying the game more fun.
  • I missed at least one whole area, the Stone Faces. I have no idea what I would have needed to do there.
I’m sure there are even more things that I missed. I’m glad I checked the walkthrough because in many ways the game is pretty forgiving if you miss a puzzle (as I clearly did more than once), but certain events and items such as the bracelet and the log must be caught on time or the game becomes unwinnable.

I didn’t even see the “Stone Faces” in my playthrough. (Video)

Final Rating

There is nothing left to do but rate the game. I am going to give some allowances for just how much extra material is here for you to explore. It doesn’t quite work because an adventure doesn’t encourage that type of slow and thorough exploration, but there was more to the game than met the eye.

Puzzles and Solvability - The game relies too much on mazes, but I’ll give that a partial pass because it is called “Labyrinth” after all. Other than that, there aren’t that many great puzzles. I enjoyed the piano one quite a bit, plus the goblins with the pressure plates were fun. I really liked in retrospect how many alternate puzzles we could have found if we ventured back to previous areas; in fact, the alternates seemed more interesting than the simple ones found in the first pass. This is a far cry from what LucasArts will eventually manage, but still not absolutely terrible. My score: 4.

Interface and Inventory - The nicest thing that I can say about the interface is that they were trying something new. If you do not try new things, you can never improve! And yet… the interface is awful. The verb selection interface is unwieldy with too many options to be a good point-and-click adventure, and too few to make it as a text adventure. You can jump to words using the keyboard by pressing the first letter, but that didn’t save much time overall. I will have PTSD about trying to navigate the menus while running away from goblins. It sucks. My score: 2.

The interface became more 3D in the second half of the game.

Story and Setting - This game doesn’t know what it is. Is it a recitation of the Labyrinth film? It seems that way as our character passes through all the same locations and has similar interactions with most of the characters of the game. The game sets itself up as a new trip by someone else through the maze, but in that case it doesn’t make sense for all of the characters to be back where they were at the start. As for the setting, it’s nice but long boring hallways are long and boring. Changing the color of the walls does not do much to create a setting. My score: 3.

Sound and Graphics - The sound design is surprisingly good with basic versions of songs from the film playing over the titles and at the end, plus we get some ambient sound effects such as when we are being chased by goblins. Graphics are fairly boring overall and things that feel like they could have been cutscenes are just quickly remarked on in a text box. On the second disk, sequences became more interesting and nearly feels like a better version of the game engine. I also loved the upside-down maze. My score: 4.

Using items while dodging goblins is quite difficult.

Environment and Atmosphere - At times tense and at times just terribly boring, the game doesn’t manage to do well in terms of overall feel. The design evokes a bit of the film’s macabre whimsy, but not well enough and not consistently enough. My score: 3.

Dialog and Acting - There is very little text or acting and most of the NPCs are just cameo appearances from characters in the film. You never need Hoggle, for example, and he doesn’t say much. Alph and Ralph, the Wise Man, and the Door Knockers are well written and act like the characters that they are in the film… but the same cannot be said for Ludo and Sir Didymus. Mr. Adams was a poor match for the game they were building; they should have found a better visual comedian instead. My score: 3.

Let’s add it all up: (4+2+3+4+3+3)/0.6 = 32 points! I’m going to add one bonus point for all of the replayability and extra content.

That’s lower than I expected, and yet I can be comfortable with it. The interface was terrible, the hallways were boring, and the game never really came together for me. I hope you do not feel I am being harsh. On the bright side, all of these designers would show they could do much better in the future. Your average guess for this game was 41; clearly we were expecting more from LucasArts. Our winner is Vetinari who came closest with 37! CAPs will be awarded with the next mainline game.

Up next for me is Bureaucracy. I’ve already started so hopefully we’ll be able to get the first post out soon. I have a bit more Douglas Adams research to do and I hope that will not take too long. After that, we’ll finally get to Space Quest V.


  1. "they say they are both liars"

    Of course, this can't possibly be true, because if it is, then they are not lying!

    1. I caught that too, but assumed they meant "liars starting as soon as we finish this sentence".

  2. Is there any video proof of the "adumbrate elephant" thing actually having an effect? (And if it really does ever work, I wonder how a player is supposed to figure it out. The only thing I can think of is in a desperation of "try every verb on every object" if they were stuck, and didn't give up and restore first.)

    I thought at first "manicure" was a rather odd command to occupy the same space as utility commands like "inventory" and "load game" but then I realized they're simply in alphabetical order. Did you try manicuring anything?

    1. "I wonder how a player is supposed to figure it out."

      Surely not the first time this sentence has been said in reference to Douglas Adams game design!

    2. I was unable to find anything in the game that required a manicure. It probably worked somewhere, but I have no idea where.

      As for the elephant, I agree that it's a particularly bad puzzle which rests entirely on the (above?-)average English speaker not knowing what "adumbrate" means, and then thinking "what I need now is for an elephant to show up". I like to think I have a decent vocabulary, but I had to look up the word, and I certainly would not have come up with that solution without help. MAYBE there is a hint someplace that would have clued us in to try that, but I didn't see it.

      This just gets into my point that Douglas Adams was a poor fit for this type of game design.

    3. A little Google searching, and I found a way to dead-end yourself if you use the manicure verb. But no actual use that I could find.

    4. Aha, I wondered if it would be that sense of the word "manicure", like "manicured hedges"...

  3. Ooh, Bureaucracy. The Infocom title most often misspelled in 80ies computer magazines. (Though the most amusing misspelling I ever saw of an Infocom title must have been "Show Gun".)

    Not my favorite Infocom game by any stretch, but the application form is one of my favorite Infocom feelies, and I think the "TAKE THEIR WORDS FOR IT!" section on the Inside flap of the box is just adorable. Usually this section would be filled with praise for Infocom and their games, but here it's filled with user complaints instead.

    I love it when companies poke fun at themselves like that, and this is the best example of that that I can think of. (Though Legend Entertainment's legal disclaimer, which contains lawyer jokes and disavows any responsibility for if you accidentally set your city ablaze comes pretty close.)

    1. I think Bureaucracy is... weird. At least the first part of the game I think is pretty good, then after that it quickly devolves into a mess, becoming borderline unplayable.

      And, yes, the documentation is hilarious (my favourite is the form in triplicate).

    2. It does feel like two different games, somewhat awkwardly stitched together, and like you, I prefer the first part of it. You just know it had to be a troubled production when you can even find "The Strange And Terrible History of Bureaucracy" within the game...

  4. Well, that Fiery head telling you the right way in the maze seems similar to the head of the navigator that Guybrush used to get to Lechuck's ship under that giant monkey head