LucasArts, formerly Lucasfilm Games, created the defining titles in the adventure genre and some of the best games of all time. Their first foray into this genre is somewhat little known in comparison. Labyrinth, based on the classic Jim Henson movie, is a very different type of game than what was to come...
Released in 1986 for the Commodore64 and Apple II, the game begins like many others at the time; a black screen with white text. You'd be forgiven for thinking that this was a traditional text adventure but the way the parser works has been greatly simplified. You use the arrow keys to first select from a list of verbs, then scroll right to select your noun. While not as groundbreaking as the later SCUMM engine which would simplify things further, it definitely lessens the difficulty for those new to the genre. The downside is that you can't type rude words anymore - it's a kids game.
Written by Douglas Adams of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy fame, you begin by attempting to go to the movies to see Labyrinth. Tramps, box office cashiers and nerds get in your way but it's easy enough to get there. This section basically lets you get to grips with the control scheme with some funny asides in the text. You sit down, the nerd eats all of your popcorn flavoured popcorn and as the movie begins things start to get weird. Jareth the Goblin King, played by David Bowie in the movie, directly speaks to you and - in an impressive nod to The Wizard of Oz - you are transported to this magical world with full colour animated graphics. Your true adventure now begins.
From here you'll find the usual mix of inventory puzzles with the odd action element thrown in. You move your character directly with the joystick (here assigned to the number pad) while selecting your sentence structure with the keyboard. This means that your character needs to be standing directly next to the object you want to interact with. It can get a bit frustrating, especially with the constant threat of goblins that lurk the area just waiting to send you to a pit.
The graphics are very impressive for the time, with a sense of depth and large sprites rarely seen on the Commodore64. The downside is that the loading times are atrocious - something that was all too common for the system. It can take up to two minutes to boot up, and half that to go from screen to screen and that's just the disk version. It you bought the game on cassette tape, you'll spend more time waiting for it to load than actually playing the thing. Thankfully the WinVice emulator has a 'Warp' function (toggle on and off with Alt-W) which speeds things up dramatically.
You can see some design elements that would be seen later in Maniac Mansion. The characters have a familiar shape to them and the desire to create a simplified control scheme is already here. The puzzles do tend to err on the obscure but it still contains the cheeky charm and comedic fourth-wall breaking the company is known for. For example, there are many ways to get out of the aforementioned pits named oubliettes. One such a way is to adumbrate an elephant (it means foreshadow - I learned something today), though it's best not to adumbrate too much. You can also call the nerd who will literally drive you up the wall (get it?).
There was also another game based on the movie developed by ATLUS and released only in Japan. This NES title is basically one giant convoluted maze and one of the biggest trolls in gaming I have ever seen. A translation patch has been released but it does little help to make you understand what the hell is going on.
Unlike LucasArt's title, this game attempts to follow the plot of the movie and gives you direct control of Sarah. You shoot rocks to attack enemies but you move so slow and the accuracy is all off that fast moving foes like the annoying fairies are almost impossible to hit. Whenever you get hit yourself, precious minutes are taken from your 13 hour clock (which seems to take 13 minutes to pass in game time). The maze is filled with traps you'd have no idea would be there until you're right on top of them and a multitude of dead ends makes for many lost minutes. There are pick ups which can increase your time and firepower but it does little to help. Nor does the inclusion of Friends that follow you around. Hoggle, Ludo and Sir Didymus can join your party one at a time, each having their their own health bar. Hoggle is too slow and weak to be effective, while Ludo does help with attacking. Sir Didymus simply runs off unless you tell him to hold still.
Needless to say, the Lucasfilm game is the better of the two. I did find the Japanese title interesting for a short while if only for historical context. I doubt I'd go back to it any time soon - even with a detailed walk-through I could barely get anywhere. But then I guess that's the point of the Labyrinth.
To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses WinVice and Retroarch with the NEStopia core to emulate the games on modern PCs. XBox 360 controllers supported. The C64 Manual and Maps for the NES game included. Tested on Windows 7.
* Mergeable title. Can be merged with other compatible games to save disk space.
Labyrinth for C64 is © Lucasfilm Games
Labyrinth for NES is © ATLUS
Labyrinth (the movie) is © Lucasfilm
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me