App Reviewed on: iPad Pro
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Pierre is a detective with an odd specialty: mazes. Luckily for him, his arch nemesis Mr. X seems to spend a lot of time waiting for Pierre at the end of dense, whimsical environments that just so happen to feel a lot like mazes. This is the setup for Labyrinth City, a mobile game based on the award-winning children's book series by the same name, which is a delightfully colorful--though mechanically somewhat dull--adventure game.
Labyrinth City is a game where you control Pierre as he wanders through bustling museums, crowded downtown strips, and other more fanciful locations on the hunt for Mr. X, who has stolen an ancient stone that allows him to turn these locations into complicated mazes. This makes for sprawling levels full of different winding paths you must lead Pierre through in an effort to gather clues and continue your pursuit of Mr. X to the next location.
Every level in Labyrinth City is a multi-step process of reaching specific points within these colorful and noisy tableaus, and along the way there are plenty of dead ends, interactive objects, and hidden collectibles to pick up. At the game's core though is the challenge of simply pathfinding a way to the level's exit.
Discovered on diversions
The primary appeal of Labyrinth City is its presentation. I have no affinity for the Labyrinth City books, but the artwork on display here is charming, inventive, and manages to trigger nostalgic feelings for books with similar art design like the Where's Waldo series. There's also a sense of whimsical surrealism in this game's aesthetic that makes it fun to discover talking statues or giant pigeon taxis as you hunt for Mr. X.
Most of the gameplay in Labyrinth City simply involves steering Pierre around with a viritual joystick to find an open path forward to your next goal. With the intricacy of each level, this can be tricky both in terms of choosing the right path and making sure Pierre actually takes it. There is a strange lack of fidelity in controls in Labyrinth City, which can make it hard to actually choose the paths you want to go down. Thankfully, wrong turns usually give way to collectibles, mini-puzzles, or even helpful wizards who can conjure signs that point you in the right direction.
As much as I enjoy taking in a lot of the sights of Labyrinth City's world, I'm not sure I can say the same about actually moving Pierre through them. Part of this is the controls, but the other aspect is that the discoveries to be had within them aren't as rich and rewarding as the environments themselves. In fact, outside of simply checking off a list of collectible boxes, there isn't really much to be gained from venturing off of the critical path.
In Labyrinth City's defense, one could argue that a game about mazes and based off a children's series shouldn't necessarily try to complicate things. That said, I've never really respected the notion that games aimed at children should be overly simplified for their sake. The bits of personality you get from the interactivity in Labyrinth City don't necessarily have to be more challenging or gate your progress more aggressively. It would just be nice if they added a bit more texture to the game world or made its disparate collectibles have some kind of intersecting purpose. Something like this could make playing through Labyrinth City feel like more than simply completing a maze that has buttons strewn across it.
The bottom line
Labyrinth City paints such a vivid and charming picture but unfortunately doesn't prop up its incredible visuals with much substance. Perhaps the books tell a different story, but it seems that mazes aren't Pierre's specialty so much as navigating them is one of the only things he can do. This results in what feels like a very flat (though colorful) adventure experience.