An action-focused Symphony of the Night lite.
Record of Lodoss War-Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth- is much more than its unwieldy title. While certainly in the Metroidvania realm, it skews much heavier on the action side, playing a little more like a classic Castlevania title. Comparing it to Symphony of the Night would also be apt. Wonder Labyrinth’s division into stages, even with a sprawling map, save points, and teleporters, encourages a quicker pace of play and gives the game a wonderful flow. You don’t necessarily need to backtrack here, even if you’ll be rewarded for doing so. This flexibility combined with excellent visuals and thrilling action gameplay make for an early must-have title on Switch.
Like me, if you’re not familiar with Record of Lodoss War, a fantasy novel series from Ryo Mizuno, you might find the story a little more threadbare, but fortunately there’s enough narrative meat on the bone to make the game interesting. As the titular elf Deedlit, you awake in a mysterious labyrinth with only a brief glimpse of Parn, an adventurer whom you’re trying to reconnect with. Early rooms serve as a tutorial and introduce players to Deedlit’s jumping and attacking, but two spirits you find during the opening minutes, one of wind and one of flame, grant Deedlit special abilities. When toggled on, the wind spirit allows you to float in midair while the flame spirit allows you to destroy certain obstacles, even opening up hidden passages. A bow and arrow serve as both a weapon and an instrument for solving puzzles, as arrows can ricochet off metal walls and be shot through small openings to raise metal gates and lifts.
Most enemies can be dispatched with your melee weapon, which you can switch out via the pause menu. Knives, swords, spears, and the like can be acquired through exploration, dropped from defeated enemies, or purchased from the shop. An MP meter can be spent on launching arrows or casting magic spells, which you can collect throughout the labyrinth. Items to increase your max health or magic meter are available for intrepid explorers who don’t mind a bit of backtracking, but even though there is an abundance of teleportation rooms that allow return to earlier parts of the map, Wonder Labyrinth doesn’t really force you to retread old ground. Colored doors are unlocked by finding their associated switches, but most of the time the doors blocking your path can be opened within the same map area. It’s a breath of fresh air after playing something like Metroid Dread where you constantly take care of unfinished business in new parts of familiar areas.
Being divided into six total stages makes Wonder Labyrinth standout among other Metroidvanias, and it’s an entirely welcome shift. Each stage is essentially a new area of the map, which on the whole is quite manageable in size if you did want to roam around and find all of its secrets. Most stages contain a boss fight or two, usually against some type of large dragon or a story character your own size. The fights are telegraphed by a green smoke in front of the boss room and a nearby save point. Save points are frequent and refill your HP and MP, and because there’s no autosave and a fairly constant threat of death, it’s worth returning to them regularly, especially after defeating a boss.
Boss fights make use of an additional function of the two aforementioned spirits possessed by Deedlit. When any enemy attacks with a blue projectile, switching to the wind spirit will nullify the attack. Any orange projectiles, like a dragon’s fiery breath, can be blocked with the flame spirit. Other rooms in the labyrinth also feature orange and blue barriers that have to be passed through with the appropriate spirit, lest you want to lose a third of your health. Certain enemies will only take damage if you attack with the correct element equipped, so you’ll be constantly switching between the two. Successful attacks with wind or flame will power up the other one, allowing you to deal more damage. If you can get either spirit to level up to 3 in this way, your health will start automatically restoring. You’ll power down and lose a level if you take any damage, though, so it can be worth keeping one element at level 3 during boss fights so that you can heal when needed.
Aesthetically, Wonder Labyrinth shares that detailed 2D look of 32-bit pixel style games like PlayStation classic Symphony of the Night. Although many of the environments have the same cavernous or dungeon-like look to them, the attention to detail makes the visuals stand out. The music isn’t as memorable as some of its predecessors, but it works well enough with the enclosed spaces and the fantasy theme. The sound effects are pronounced and add to the enjoyment of the game, and even include some synthesized voice clips announcing when Deedlit’s spirits level up. Funnily enough, performance is better in handheld mode, with some noticeable slowdown affecting the game when playing docked.
Record of Lodoss War-Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth- is a very strong Metroidvania that plays more like a straight, stage-based action game, with exploration elements. I’d say this works to its advantage given the glut of genre entries that focus so much on returning to previously insurmountable obstacles with new powers. Deedlit doesn’t gain too many new abilities, even though she does get stronger as the game progresses. Because enemies become more dangerous the further in you get, level ups don’t always feel that meaningful. Instead, you need to find better swords or bows, and power up your spirits to keep enemies at bay. Ultimately though, the minute-to-minute gameplay is fun as hell, and I was a bit disappointed to reach the end credits. I’d gladly take another handful of stages right now, but I’ll settle for working on 100 percent map completion. If you’ve been hoping for a little more combat and a little less walking back and forth between points on a map, Wonder Labyrinth would make a wonder-full way to spend five or six hours.