Thursday, September 1, 2011

Newsflash: Deep Labyrinth Found To Contain Many Subterranean Levels

I bought Deep Labyrinth because it was a five dollar DS game that wasn't some licensed crap or Imagine: Baby Surgeriez or whatever all that DS shovelware was. It may be a very generic game, but it still somehow has the second-most generic name for a dungeon crawler on the DS, losing out to Hudson's Dungeon Explorer. Deep Labyrinth was made by a company known as Interactive Brains, which mostly makes games for Japanese cell phones, so it does not come as a huge surprise to find out it is actually a port of a cell phone game.

Maybe it was impressive as a cell phone game in 2004, but the 2006 DS game doesn't do anything special. It feels like one of those early DS games when developers were throwing in features just because they could. I can't think of any time that a required use of the microphone was a good idea. I think if it weren't so insistent on the overuse of touchscreen controls for everything, the game could have at least been more playable. I guess the developers just really wanted to have it where the area the stylus is drawn across the screen is the exact way the sword will swing.

Basically, movement is handled by the d-pad, and everything else is controlled through the touchscreen, which isn't an entirely bad idea, but it is executed poorly. Controlling movement in first-person 3D game with a d-pad is almost always bad. In this case, up moves forward, down moves backwards, and left and right turn the camera, except when they are double tapped, which makes the player strafe. Also, when locked on to an enemy, left and right will strafe around the enemy while maintaining a view of it, and that works out okay. While playing this on 3DS with the slide pad improves things a bit, it is still clunky. I would have preferred if the d-pad were used entirely for strafing, and the touchscreen were used for looking left and right, but that's just not the case.

Most of the touchscreen is taken up by a box that, when the stylus is dragged through, will cause the sword to swing on that path. The problem with this is that the game does not account for this in any way, so the way the sword is swung does not make a difference. If there were just a button for attack, on-screen or maybe on the unused L button that is easily accessible when using the d-pad+touchscreen holding position the game uses, it would free up the touchscreen for the previously mentioned look controls. Deep Labyrinth has a simple system of switching attack modes. Tapping on an icon will bring up the desired mode, toggling between sword, magic, or items. The defense mode is different in that it needs to be held down for the entire time the player wishes to block attacks with the shield, otherwise it automatically reverts to the last mode. This draws emphasis away from defensive play and encourages movement, quick reactions, and staying on the offense.

The magic system is also very stylus based, and requires the player to draw unique symbols on the screen, then tap an on-screen button to launch. It is a bit awkward to have this 3x3 grid on screen while trying to shoot at enemies, but it's not that hard to use the center square as a reticle. The item system is a bit restrictive in that the player can only use items from the limited slots in the player's pockets. The pockets can only be filled from the inventory when not in combat, so it is important to have them stocked before getting into fights. One thing that makes the game boring for me is the lack of interesting items and loot. All of the random drops seemed to be potions, and new equipment only came from chests at specific locations. This makes grinding to kill enemies, that respawn, primarily for the sake of leveling up the character and his equipment.

The structure of the game is simple and typical for a dungeon crawler. There is a dungeon, it needs to be crawled for whatever reason, taking the player to lower and lower floors. Deep Labyrinth has two scenarios, one that was presumably new to the DS version that is very story-focused and has a long tutorial section, and the original cell phone scenario, which has a less of a story and gets right down to the dungeon crawling. I preferred the second because it got right into things, and the labyrinth was more interesting right away, instead of just a series of big, open, square rooms. It is a shame the game is boring considering the big name people that worked on it. It was written by Masato Kato, who wrote the script for Chrono Trigger and bunch of other games, and the music was composed by Yasunori Mitsuda, who also worked on Chrono Trigger and a bunch of other games.

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