It's hard to get too immersed in Deep Labyrinth, a first-person-perspective role-playing game in which you must navigate mazelike levels while fighting monsters with swords and magic. You control the game primarily with the DS's touch screen, and you may even guide your character's sword slashes by drawing across the screen in different directions. The magic system also involves drawing arcane symbols using the touch screen, but elements like these aren't fully baked, and the rather dull environments and clunky combat don't help matters either. Deep Labyrinth does have two separate stories in it and each one is reasonably interesting, but the underlying game feels like a grind.
The game's two different chapters may be played in any order, though the first one is the focus. It casts you as a boy named Shawn, who's on a road trip with his parents and his pet dog when the car suddenly blows a tire. Shawn's parents disappear when they go off in search of help, his dog runs off, and soon enough, Shawn himself gets dragged into some strange portal that dumps him in a fantasy world filled with smart-alecky mice, a purple platypus that saves your progress for you, and a bunch of weird foes. Apparently this is a place where old memories go to get erased, and it's where Shawn's parents wound up. This is a game about a dysfunctional family, and that's at least a little more imaginative than the typically generic role-playing game storyline.
The second chapter is based on the original version of Deep Labyrinth, which, as the preface to this chapter explains, first appeared on Japanese cell phones. The idea in this one is that you somehow get sucked into your own cell phone and find yourself about to get skewered by a sword-wielding skeleton. You manage to survive the encounter, and soon find an image of a young woman in a crystal...someone who your character seems to know. You're left with no choice but to fight your way through this gloomy prison, attempting to figure out what's going on. Neither of the two storylines figures into the game very prominently once you start playing. But they give context to the action, and help make the two chapters feel rather different in tone, even though they're very similar in both their presentation and gameplay. The second chapter is also substantially tougher from the get-go than the first one, which is mired down by too many basics and expository sequences.
While the visuals are fully 3D, they're still pretty crude by current standards. Most of the areas you'll explore are simple boxlike corridors with the same textures repeated over and over every few steps. There are some outdoor areas, but they're boxed in just like the subterranean ones. Some of the enemies do look good, at least. There are a few rather imposing boss opponents you'll go toe-to-toe with, and these are sometimes introduced with a bit of dramatic flair, as both the DS's screens are used to show how much bigger they are compared to you. Normally, the DS's top screen is used to show both a map of the immediate surroundings and the entire map you're currently exploring. This map system isn't clear at first, but it works well once you get used to it. The game's audio is pleasant enough, but unremarkable, save for a couple of standout music tracks that evoke a high-fantasy vibe very well.
You control the action on the bottom screen by using the D pad to move and the stylus to attack, defend, cast spells, and use items. When you get close to an enemy, you automatically lock on to it, which causes left and right motions on the D pad to make you circle around the foe rather than turn in place. Circling while swinging is the tactic you'll need to defeat 95 percent of the foes in the game, including most of the boss opponents. Overall, the control system seems fairly good in theory, since there's a row of icons along the side of the screen that lets you instantly switch between your sword, shield, magic, and your inventory. In the middle of a fight, though, this proves surprisingly hectic and difficult...especially since spellcasting involves drawing precise patterns on the screen. In the end, sticking with your sword is the safest, easiest way to go, while tougher fights that force you to use magic or healing items can get frustrating. What's more, since you can swing your sword quickly and easily just by tapping on the screen, there's little point to dragging the stylus across the screen to perform different swings.
For a rather simplistic hack-and-slash dungeon crawl, Deep Labyrinth sure has a lot of different magic spells in it. You learn fire, ice, thunder, and death spells, spells that heal and cure poison, spells that grant you resistances to different elements, spells that magically imbue your sword, and more. Ironically, this isn't a good thing, because each spell has its own special symbol that must be drawn on the touch screen each time you want to cast it. So unless you have a photographic memory, you'll be frequently fumbling in your menu, reminding yourself of the pattern for the particular spell that's needed at that moment. Given that the combat happens in real time and is fairly fast-paced, the process of spellcasting just ends up feeling like more trouble than it's worth most of the time. In actuality, the magic system is mostly there to add a key-hunt mechanic to the game, since you'll often find locked doors that require you to learn a certain spell before you can open them. You learn spells by finding special tablets, or sometimes by leveling up.
Deep Labyrinth performs a few other basic tricks using the touch screen. You'll find walls that can be knocked down by poking at them a few times, or a hard-of-hearing old man who you're supposed to yell at using the microphone (you can just blow into it, though). Gimmicks like these seem to crop up just often enough to keep the game from being too tedious. It can still feel like a slog, though, especially in later stages when the combat gets tough and death can come swiftly. While save points are fairly frequent, the repetitive nature of the action means that having to replay even short portions of the mazes can seem oddly discouraging. This is the type of game you want to stop playing for a while whenever you die.
Between the two chapters, there's a good amount of dungeon-crawling to be done in Deep Labyrinth, a game that's best played in relatively short bursts and that could keep you busy with casual play for a few days or weeks. However, since neither the combat nor the exploration aspects of the game are particularly good, neither is the overall experience. Nevertheless, if you enjoyed old first-person RPGs like the King's Field series, you'll find some things to like about Deep Labyrinth.