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Beyond The Labyrinth is not what we expected. The game's pre-release campaign revolved around its winsome heroine and her wardrobe of customisable skirts - catnip to otaku softies. In reality, it's a take-no-prisoners dungeon crawler.
Vertical difficulty spikes, instant deaths, tortuously positioned save points - the works. Buy it expecting to ogle a digital lass and you'll be sorely disappointed. The game even tells you off for looking up her skirt! Er, so we're told.
The game starts with an intriguing tutorial set in a fake Famicom game. Here we a) feel mild panic that Konami have burned the wrong code onto the cart, and b) learn combat basics. Fighting uses a rock-paper-scissors system, rebranded as red-blue-green. The simple palette lends battles a handy clarity, though it can feel like you're playing a hardcore Roger Red Hat RPG. Enjoy the kid gloves while they're on - once the game enters the 3D labyrinth, it gets harder.
Here's the tricky bit: damage from attacks is recycled as health by the next like-coloured unit - be they friend or foe - to take their turn. Smart players will keep an eye on unit recharge times to ensure their own party is in line to gobble up the excess health build-ups. Having to think ten moves ahead is a deeply cerebral challenge, but not a particularly fun one. The vast majority of play is spent glued to the attack queue on the bottom screen, rendering the 3D action up top redundant.
It's screamingly unfair. Your role in all this is to babysit the mysterious waif - if she dies, you all die. Problem is, she's a grade-A moron. Her AI always picks the least relevant targets, wasting potentially devastating attacks (every hit you land increases the damage of her next move). Worse still, there's no obvious way to defend her. Should the enemy AI randomly decide to pick on her and only her - as they often do - the game is over. We hope you remembered to save... four floors ago.
The best dungeon crawlers use difficulty to evoke the trepidation of pushing deeper into uncharted territory. Look at DS's Etrian Odyssey, where every inch forward feels like a minor victory. Labyrinth has none of that pacing or reward. It's simply following an idiot girl and praying she doesn't make yet another poor decision. That isn't a game; that's The Only Way Is Essex. Which is not the game we expected. What a disappointment.
Why do the pretty ones always have to be so mean? Story of our life. A welcome dose of strategic smarts is undermined by lobotomised AI and dry-as-Ryvita delivery.