Without a plot, purpose, or any real explanation for what exactly is going on, Puzzle Labyrinth on 3DS lives up to its title by unceremoniously dumping the player into a complex maze filled with monsters, traps and strange riddles. Your only hope of escape lies squarely in your ability to complete each puzzle and unlock a gigantic set of steel doors, but it won't be easy.
Played entirely from a first-person perspective, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this was just another standard dungeon crawler, but despite the look and feel it doesn't really fit into that genre. Developer INTENSE has mixed things up with a variety of deductive puzzles that play with your expectations, requiring you to make friends with gargoyles and do a little gardening in order to escape. Combat takes a back seat, as the majority of gameplay requires the clever use of items and some abstract thinking in order to progress.
There are 60 levels in total, though they won't all be unlocked from the start. After completing a warm-up puzzle you're given five keys that can be used on the first 20 levels in any order. Solving a maze earns you a replacement key, but if you end up stuck then the only way to progress is by going back and completing puzzles you may have skipped over before. It's a linear structure that nevertheless allows for some flexibility, allowing you to pick and choose the order in which you complete the mazes. When we ended up scratching our heads at one brain-teaser, it often helped out being able to jump around and try another one instead. The downside to this freedom is that it does affect difficulty somewhat, which varies wildly from simple 3 or 4 minute mazes to much more complex efforts. It's a series of fair peaks and extremely low valleys rather than a steady curve.
Once you enter a maze and the door closes behind you, a plaque on the wall lays out what you'll have to do in order to escape. This might be as simple as finding the correct key, or fulfilling certain requirements that are hinted at throughout the level. Using the Directional Pad, you'll move around the environment one square at a time, searching for clues and interacting with the surrounding area by pressing 'A'. It's remarkably simple, and a handy map on the bottom screen provides an overhead view so you'll never really get lost. Also on the bottom screen is an indicator of your health - used in the game's limited combat encounters - and an item select menu which you can control using the Circle Pad. It's all pretty straightforward, so you can thankfully focus on the puzzles themselves.
The most important step in completing each maze is figuring out exactly what you're supposed to be doing. Clues are either scratched into the walls or found scrawled on a piece of paper, and from these you'll hopefully be able to decipher the rules that each maze operates under. There's also plenty to be learned by interacting with the different monsters that inhabit each labyrinth, so a large portion of your time will be spent deciphering cryptic instructions and hints that are purposefully designed to confuse. Unfortunately, this isn't always for the right reasons, and we came across more than a few concepts that may just have been lost in translation. Some sketchy localization seems to have resulted in several instances of incorrect wording or bizarre explanations for otherwise straightforward solutions, which throw an extra spanner in the works. At worst, it's a bit like solving a crossword puzzle with typos.
When it all clicks, it's a bizarre and intriguing experience that makes use of time travel, monsters, and the environment itself to create some unique challenges. For example, a common early puzzle revolves around growing a specific type of flower that will only bloom under certain conditions. Give this to a panicked gargoyle and he'll quickly calm down, allowing you to escape. It's about as strange as it sounds.
Not all monsters are necessarily friendly, however, and you'll bump into everything from wizards to cupids while exploring. When entering combat, making the wrong decision will cause you to lose some of your health, and this isn't always made clear if you aren't actively checking your heart meter. There's no real direct fight system as such, and you won't always have a weapon to attack with in the first place. Confrontations can largely be solved by equipping the right item, granting a request or even just fleeing. After all, someone muttering strange spells can be overcome by wearing a set of donkey ears to block the sound out. That's Labyrinth logic right there!
In terms of presentation, it's pretty simplistic. The anime character designs are great, save for a few repeats and recolours later in the game, but the environment is about as basic as it gets. The white walls look like something out of a VR simulation, and as there's no real reason for that visual style it's a little disappointing. It would have been great to see themed labyrinths, with a little more focused storytelling to add context to the gameplay, but what's there is clean and direct, so it doesn't get in the way of any puzzling. The music is similarly low-key, so as not to distract too much either.
By the time you've moved on to the final 20 levels, Puzzle Labyrinth's bag of tricks has definitely started to wear a bit thin. The writing isn't always up to scratch, and can't fully carry the weight of its limited visual style, but there's enough to make it well worth seeing things through to the end. It only takes a few hours to complete, but at a budget price it's a great purchase if you feel like tackling some remarkably weird and cryptic logic puzzles with a kooky twist.
Puzzle Labyrinth is going to confuse and delight in equal measure. Despite the name, it's less focused on creating complex mazes than it is on testing your ability to decipher clues and explore the environment, encouraging the player to experiment and learn an ever-changing set of rules. There isn't any story or visual flair to keep you hooked, but if deciphering cryptic clues and performing strange favours for monsters sounds like a good time, then we'd suggest getting lost in this budget title. Just be wary of translation errors throughout and a few overly simplistic puzzles at the outset.