Between Touhou Luna Nights and Record of Lodoss War -Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth-, Team Ladybug is onto something: with the right foundation, just about any property can make a compelling metroidvania. Case in point: I didn’t know a whole lot about Record of Lodoss War going into Wonder Labyrinth, and I still don’t, coming out the other side, but I’ve had a blast all the same. The combination of intricate level design, a focus on exploration, tight controls, and mobility upgrades as your primary means of “unlocking” new paths is a strong framework—one that you can layer everything from a danmaku shoot-’em-up to a cross-media high fantasy franchise on top of, with great results.
The labyrinth that Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth gives you to play around is an enchanting one. It’s not necessarily as expansive as some of its peers, but it gives up in sheer size it makes up for in intricacy. There isn’t a wasted room or a nook that doesn’t have some secret or another hidden away, and from the moment you start exploring, you catch glimpses of places that you can’t get to yet but will be worth revisiting once you can jump higher or slide through narrow gaps. The further you explore and the more your toolkit grows, the more the map opens up and folds back in on itself, with shortcuts that make retracing your steps as unobtrusive as possible.
The upgrades that let you venture further out come thick and fast, too. It’s not long after starting the game that you get the useful ability to hover a few feet above the ground and glide from the top of a jump—not quite flight, but a powerful first upgrade that makes a substantial improvement your ability to get around. By the end of the game, you’ll have a suite of double jumps, slide moves, a manually-aimable bow, water breathing, and a rising attack that all help you get around. It’s not the most exhaustive list of upgrades, but everything has its place, and the level design does a good job of making sure nothing ever becomes redundant.
By far, though, the two most interesting abilities in Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth are the first two you get: the spirits of Sylph and Salamander. Beyond just their active affects—Sylph has the aforementioned hover, Salamander can ignite flammable objects—their role as guardian spirits brings an Ikaruga-esque polarity effect into play by letting you absorb the element of whichever spirit you have active at the time. A wall of fire is trivial to a Salamander-enhanced Deedlit, and likewise a wall of wind magic to Sylph. You can switch between the two at any time, and precise, well-timed switching becomes crucial in the later parts of the game that create mazes of moving wind and fire hazards.
These spirits are a key part of Wonder Labyrinth’s combat, too. Enemies with elemental weaknesses (or resistances) to one or the other are common, and being able to safely absorb certain elemental attacks is vital, and a good way to recover MP. On top of that, each spirit powers up the other: defeating enemies with one charges up the other, increasing attacking strength and giving you access to an extremely useful source of health regeneration at full charge. Each spirit is strong on its own, but it’s when you learn how to use them properly in tandem, and find opportune moments to switch back and forth, that their true power really becomes apparent.
Boss fights, in particular, push this system to its limits with creative attack patterns that force you to dodge, absorb elements, switch spirits accordingly, and find safe attack windows in the midst of all that elemental chaos. Deedlit’s nimble movements, quick attacks, and Castlevania-inspired backstep all help, too, underpinned by precise, responsive controls.
Through all this, Wonder Labyrinth tells a story that seems an interesting spin on Record of Lodoss War history—assuming you’re well versed enough in the franchise to be familiar with its background and have a connection with its characters. For newcomers, though, there isn’t really much of an introduction, just a lot of seemingly dramatic, intense moments that fall flat without the necessary context to fully understand them. If nothing else, it does at least expose new players to what seems like an intriguing fantasy world, and with a solid action exploration game underpinning it, that can be enough to spark an interest in the franchise as a whole.
It has its share of new ideas, but for the most part, Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth is a classic metroidvania, and it wears that heritage proudly. The inspiration from games like Symphony of the Night is abundant, right down to a little homage to Alucard in the way Deedlit’s cape animates when she runs. “Indie retro-inspired metroidvania” isn’t exactly a rarity these days, but Wonder Labyrinth has the goods, with the intricate level design, fluid movement, and steady stream of worthwhile upgrades that sit at the genre’s heart. It’s probably not going to make a metroidvania fan out of someone who isn’t one already, but as a throwback to Castlevania’s heyday in particular, it’s an impressive effort.
And with this rock solid metroidvania framework and a clear interest adapting all sorts of different properties, I can’t wait to see what comes next from Team Ladybug.
Record of Lodoss War -Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth-
Developer: Team Ladybug
Publisher: Playism, Why so serious?
Genre: Metroidvania, action, platformer
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC
Release date: 28 January 2022 (Switch); 16 December 2021 (consoles); 27 March 2021 (PC)
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.