Labyrinthica: The Quest of Lima
This is the story of a young girl named Lima. She set out one day to collect some apples (despite not apparently having a mouth to eat them with, if the intro sequence is any guide!) and suffered some kind of accident. I'm not entirely clear what happened, but now Lima is lost and alone in the forest, surrounded by monsters and keen to get home.
And thus begins Labyrinthica. Take control of Lima through keyboard and mouse, moving her around the screen and slashing at monsters with your weapon. This starts out as a stout branch (somewhat tougher than the name "twig" gives it credit!) and new, tougher weapons may be dropped by your enemies on their defeat. Your task on each level is to kill a set number of enemies and then find the exit that will teleport you to the next.
While Lima's main attack is strictly close range, monsters can drop a variety of objects when killed - including a selection of different colour potions. These can heal, cure poisons, cause poisons and many more effects beside - some beneficial, some harmful. You can either take these potions yourself, or throw them at your enemies (making poison, for instance, potentially quite useful). As exactly which colour relates to which potion is randomly determined in every new game, you're never quite sure what a new colour potion will do until you try it. My favourite has to be the Berserk, which makes Lima spin around like a flaming Catherine Wheel! Very useful!
In some respects, Labyrinthica is very simple. Explore the maze that is each level, searching for the exit portal and smiting monsters. Eat dropped food to recover lost hit points. Switch your weapons, shield and armour by pressing Escape to get to the character menu. In other respects it is quite complex - ten types of potion, a whole host of different monsters that get tougher each level (and drop better rewards...) and even the occasional boss monster. Defeating the first of these was actually rather clever, requiring a little thought rather than just diving in with sword swinging.
Graphics are smooth and cartoon - monsters are all bright and colourful and given some delightful names. This is a very kid-friendly game. The earliest monster, the Shruby, is adorable! You soon get used to identifying different monsters and their different attacks or effects. Dropped items are clearly identifiable, though some potion colours are fairly similar. The scenery varies between different levels, with unexplored regions marked by dead trees or closed flowers or numerous other markers, depending on the scenery. There's also a rather nice intro sequence featuring hand-drawn line art. Labyrinthica features a range of sound effects for everything from the thwack of your weapon to the glug sound as a potion is picked up. There are also several music tracks, from the cheerful title screen and in-game tunes to the boss fight music!
Very easy to get started with, Labyrinthica is great fun to play. There are two game modes - Laid Back and Rough. The former is much easier going and recommended for younger players or those getting used to the game - the latter sees tougher enemies and a much weaker Lima. Destroying enemies helps Lima to "level up", meaning her hitpoints improve, so there's often an advantage in patrolling the level after you've destroyed the required number of monsters in a hunt for more, and hence more items and experience. Enemies, level maps and dropped items are random (though certain enemies are more likely to drop certain items - you won't see a Shruby drop a big weapon or armour, for instance), so if you fail a level you might fare differently with a replay.
It also, sadly, suffers a small yet important absence - there are no ingame instructions at this time. The developers promise a "patch" for this on their website! A simple file listing default controls and basic gameplay would be a worthy addition, however, and such a document could be copied direct from their forum - a quick start guide is already there and I can recommend new players spend a little time looking for it. There are also a few odd moments, such as the unintuitive way the game keeps moving along when you die - it took me a bit of fiddling to realise I had to press Escape to restart the level or quit. Potions are difficult to get the hang of - click the wrong button in the heat of the moment and you'll drink that poison rather than throw it, and aiming your throws is always tricky when the gameplay gets chaotic.
There are thirty levels in the full game, though I am a long way from seeing them all. This is a game with moderate longevity, though this is limited by the way only one game can be in progress at a time. If you start a new game, your old progress is lost (without warning!). Perhaps multiple profiles are something to be implemented in later updates - they would add a lot to the playability. The random creation of levels and monsters means this is never the same game twice, which helps to keep it fairly fresh, though it also means that after a while they play very similarly. The steady appearance of new enemies, weapons and potions helps to counter this.
I like Labyrinthica. It's a simple concept that is well executed and doesn't focus on grinding experience or uncovering secrets. Just hack away! The absence of instructions doesn't harm the game as much as you might think, though there are some controls (such as running) which would be more helpful if we knew about them and some which still baffle me even now - for instance, holding down the right mouse button makes Lima hold her shield above her head. I have yet to find a use for this and suspect it may be used with enemies I have not yet encountered. There are perhaps more secrets locked away in this game if you're willing to look for them.
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