Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth Review – Reds and blues, ups and downs

Gare – Monday, April 19, 2021 3:47 PM
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So, you may or may not remember that I did briefly talk about Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth (henceforth “DWL” for brevity’s sake) at one point last year – it feels like a lifetime ago now, but indeed, it was a review for Stage 1, and only Stage 1, of the game’s Early Access launch build – you can, by the way, read that by clicking here, in case you need a bit of a backstory for this review. Either way, that early build gave us a promising start, with a rock-solid foundation that I hoped would be expanded upon in later updates. Was it expanded upon, though? Well… um. You know.

Solid foundations

At its core, DWL is a 2D action-platformer that falls squarely into the “metroidvania” category of video games. There’s a large, twisty labyrinth to explore with visually diverse aesthetics and some genuinely gorgeous pixel art, a bunch of different creepy-crawly monsters to hunt down, plus – and this, of course, is the piece de résistance of any good metroidvania – plenty of cool boss fights to sink your elven teeth into. You’ve got a variety of weapons to pick from (including a trusty bow), secrets and upgrades to uncover, and even a few puzzles to solve. It’s a fun little package, no doubt about that – but if you go into this expecting the next Symphony of the Night, you may find yourself just a tad bit disappointed. It all comes down to the scope of the project, really. It feels more than a little barebones, if I’m to be honest with you, and every aspect of it has to be described with a painful “but” at the end, because there’s a caveat to almost every facet of the (otherwise very solidly “okay”) experience.

Not enough meat on the bone

Sure, there’s a decent amount of map to explore, especially for a small-ish indie project like this, but none of it really stands out. I mean, the pixel art is objectively fantastic, but in terms of level design, the titular Wonder Labyrinth is woefully lacking in individuality and, well… wonder. So no, there’s no crazy clock tower stage like in Castlevania, nor anything fancy or gimmicky that you’d remember even years down the line; meanwhile, exploration feels relatively linear, without too many opportunities to genuinely stray off the intended path. Similarly, the various stages do have several hidden areas (usually concealed behind easily-spotted breakable walls), but these usually only award you with mundane power-ups like an HP/MP boost and the like. An attempt was also made to add in some puzzles, but these rely far too heavily on simply having you shoot wheels with your bow, and aren’t nearly as creative or engaging as I was hoping for.

Weapon and enemy variety also leave something to be desired. In terms of melee weaponry, you’ll generally find light weapons that attack in a horizontal line (daggers, swords), heavy weapons (two-handed swords, mostly) that are swung in a large arch, and a handful of throwing weapons for your semi-ranged combat needs. And you have a bow as well, of course, which can occasionally be useful for picking off enemies from afar, but since every shot costs mana, you’re better off using spells in the long run. We’ll get to spells in a second. Aside from a few specific situations (read: a couple of boss fights) where throwing weapons make life a lot easier for you, it can generally be said that two-handed weapons are the way to go in DWL, as the wide arch of their swings make for an extremely safe and effective way of taking down enemies of all types and sizes. In fact, they outright trivialize combat, and I did indeed find myself simply rushing into rooms and mashing the attack button with little to no thought, because that’s what worked. The same goes for spells, many of which automatically home in on enemies and dish out massive amounts of damage with no extra input required from the player. They’re almost like an “I win” button in a sense. As for enemies, a lot of them suffer from the same shortcomings as various other aspects of the game – they look great visually, but they’re not particularly memorable, nor do they require varied and interesting strategies to defeat. This sadly extends to bosses as well, the vast majority of which look absolutely fantastic from a visual design perspective, but the fights against them often come down to hectic button mashing and a constant spamming of your best offensive spell.

Ikarugavania

Thankfully, the core gameplay of DWL does still feel extremely tight and responsive. Deedlit is fundamentally fun to control, and the dynamic of having to constantly switch between your fire and wind modes is neat. As already explained in my review of the Early Access build, Deedlit is able to switch between imbuing herself with the powers of either a wind or fire elemental – if she’s in her “fire mode”, she’ll be immune to fire-based attacks, while the same applies to wind-type stuff while she’s in her “wind mode”. Certain enemies also possess these immunities, prompting the player to constantly switch back and forth between the two modes; what’s more, the design of every single boss fight hinges upon this color-swapping mechanic, with bosses hurling red (fire) and blue (wind) projectiles at you non-stop in an attempt to put your hand-eye coordination skills to the test. If you’ve played the classic bullet hell shoot’em up Ikaruga, it’s exactly like that. If not, then… well, go play Ikaruga. It’s good.

Another layer of complexity is added to combat via spirit levels. You see, your wind and fire modes can be leveled up by defeating enemies and collecting the red or blue orbs they drop. The higher your spirit level is, the stronger your attacks will become – at max level (3), you’ll even gain health regeneration. There’s a catch, though: if you get hit by an enemy even once, your spirit level will go back down, and you’ll have to level it back up again. In essence, this forces you not to be too reckless, since getting repeatedly hit won’t just eat into your HP bar, it’ll also drastically lower your damage output.

SotN Lite

So overall, Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth is a fun but slightly disappointing metroidvania that includes a couple of really cool ideas, but doesn’t do nearly enough with them. Sure, the pixel art is to die for and the Ikaruga-esque color swapping mechanics are neat, but the experience is held back by lackluster enemies, stale and uninspired level design, as well as overpowered, easily exploitable mechanics that end up trivializing boss fights. It’s not a bad game, per se, but I really wish there was more substance to it. More meat on its proverbial bones, if you will.

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