I recently realized that I must be officially “old”.  Why?  Because here I was, dismissively passing judgement on all the “youth of today” with their abysmal fandom and taste in movies with regards the Twilight films.  Its like – seriously.. what the hell? what a load of poo, sparkly vampires, undersaturated colourization, teen pop rebel tunes… get a grip!

Then I remembered being 12/13.. and being obsessed with a certain film in the cinema – so much so that I think I went to see it five times, learning the songs, memorizing the script… at one point even contemplating stashing a tape-recorder into the cinema with me so I could record the soundtrack – certainly a very early example of movie piracy that would have been lol.

David Bowie hadnt been on my radar at all up until that point, aside perhaps from being mildly keen on ” Ashes to Ashes ” after seeing the video on an episode of the Kenny Everett show !  However… suddenly here was this beautiful man dancing with muppets, and singing songs that really “got me” lol.

So!  Just like the twilight fans of today I wanted to sook up everything to do with this film that I could – and when Activision released a game based on the film for the C64.. I didnt wait for reviews (I had just started to read Zzap!64 around this time) I pleaded my Dad to buy me the then quite extortionate £9.99 for the game on tape (I wouldn t get a C64 disk drive until around 1990)

Fortunately, I was besotted with the game.. at least at first, its delivery mechanism would ultimately be its downfall for me!

Labyrinth as a game is quite groundbreaking.  It is really the first of what would become the defining genre of game for LucasFilm (or LucasArts as they would later call themselves) – a genre that was tweaked and improved a year later for the likes of Maniac Mansion .  Essentially a point’n'click adventure featuring big bold colourful graphics, and very varied scenes of the like that hadnt really been seen on the C64 (or anywhere!) before.

The game was notable also for having somewhat odd diversionary introduction.  It played out much like a then standard text adventure, but with selectable choices of verb and noun through an interface.  This saw you navigating your way through a street to a cinema, choosing a film to see.

UPDATE: Twitter chum and cool Captain-Kirkalike avatar’d Paul_Monk informed me that this intro section was written by none other than the late great Douglas Adams! 0.O

Eventually Jareth – Bowies character would appear in a lovely full-screen graphic, talking to you via text bubbles, before whisking you away to the world of the Labyrinth.

Here the graphics of the game come into full play with your chosen character (quite unusual and great for me back in the day was the choice of male or female character!) appearing on screen in a large form which you controlled with the joystick (in port 1, weirdos lol)





In the game proper it presents you a cool instant familiarity with the film, in that you are standing outside the walls of the Labyrinth, which go on forever (looping around) – you can tell this from a handydandy little radar display strip at the bottom which shows you in relation to notable items or NPC’s – and later on, exits/doors.  Below this you still have the verb/noun interface thing (Try adumbrate Jareth!)

The character animation is pretty good, and the scrolling also smoothly done.  Here knowledge of the film does you well with regards figuring out how to proceed into the game.

At this point I need to tell you that I had to be very very patient with the game.  Playing it from disk has enough delays as it is – but I was playing it from tape back in the day, and the multiload was a nightmare, as you might expect from a game with such big graphic use.  In particular the fact that the next scene starts immediately after load without warning, leaving you enough time to see that you’re in a new place, and a goblin guard who immediately moves to capture you.  If he does, its into the oubliette with you!

Inserting a nickle into the handy slot provides you an escape back into the labyrinth, and onwards – this can happen a lot!









Now here’s the tragedy of the tale.  Not only did I have to endure the abysmal loadtimes of tape, but I alas encountered a flaw only a couple of weeks into play.  Not long after progressing past hoggle, the brick hallway, the hedgemaze, the wise man, and the bog of eternal stench – I ran into “The persecution of Hoggle” – a section where you have to pac-man style run around a pseudo-3D maze, toggling floor panels in order to free Ludo, whilst avoiding the goblins – this section only ever loaded once for me EVER.  A problem with the tape, or possibly the heads of my C64 datasette (this was before I knew anything about head alignment) prevented it from loading in future.  Exasperated I got Dad to take it back to the shop for another copy.  Alas, they didnt have another copy, but allowed it to be swapped for another AAA class title.  Dad, not knowing what to do, accepted this option – what else could he do? – and selected another game.

Starglider .

Not at its best on the old 64 that game, but it was at least an entertaining package, featuring a novella that padded out the story and allowed you to imagine the game to be greater than it was (much as I had done with Elite on the BBC previously – playing the game from my “control room” (bedroom) and retiring to my sleepchamber (bed, which also doubled as my escape pod) when safely docked!)

However, I always wished to have Labyrinth back again so that I could finish it.. but ofcourse I never did, and whilst my Labyrinth fandom would continue for many years afterwards – eg the delight I had at finding the CD soundtrack in HMV’s Oxford St. store in London when I worked there in 1994!) – I would forget about the game until fairly recently when I popped the disk image into an emulator.

Curiously, I found the game still tediously slow in the loading dept (about 1 minute between sections – bearing in mind it can quickly(?) bounce between them) – but this was eased in Vice64 by a CTRL+W to engage 2000% warp speed emulation!  Despite this I found the game could be frustrating, especially the goblin-avoiding sections, where you would have to emerge from corridor doors sufficiently ahead of them and start running lest you get bunged into an oubliette!

My attention span is not what it was, and I got as far as the Ludo section again, in a kind of triumph… but havent yet gone back to progress further.. I hope to tho, its like one of those things I must do before I’m 40 !

A word on the game’s technical merits or otherwise:

Graphics are pretty excellent – large, colourful and full screen – very nice to see such good use of large sprites on the screen – and not chunkovision expanded ones either.  Also, a good sense of 3D is created via the use of some nice forced perspective scenes (see the Ludo in the maze bit)

The graphics come at the cost of heavy multiload sections tho.  This game was really unworkable on tape, at least in its basic design.  The game has a non-linear nature about it that cannot really work well on a tape load.  The game was designed for disk in the first instance, and is best played there.  Its a shame that C64 disk drives were so prohibitively expensive in those early days (especially in the UK) – had they been provided by default or cheaper it could have accelerated and changed a lot about how the C64 developed as a commercial gaming platform.  Disk plays well enough, though even then the load is slow.  Even better would have been a cartridge version of the game!

Audio is minimal in the game, as most information is relayed as text bubbles spoken by characters, with just the odd sound effect for footsteps etc.  The music is pretty abysmal from a technical point of view, but from a “THATS SO COOL!!” point of view of a 12/13year old at the time it was awesome since it was the music from the much loved (by me anyway!) film :)

Russell Lieblich would compose much more interesting music in other projects (ALIENS dropship level for example) but retain a simplicity of instrument/synthesis that was highly prevalent in a lot of the U.S developed games for some reason.

I’ll come back to Labyrinth some time to finish it, but for you I’ve provided a fantastic youtube C64 longplay video so you can see it.. I refuse to watch it as I dont want to spoil the game ;)



…and yes… I *did* want to be  Jennifer Connelly in that ball gown, dancing with Jareth!






Video of the game being played start to finish: