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The Darkside Detective Review – A Charming Adventure

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Platforms: PC
Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Spooky Door
Publisher: Spooky Door
Singleplayer: Yes
Multiplayer: No

I‘m not sure what has sparked this resurgence of point and click adventure games other than the very real nostalgia fad that companies are cashing in on like mad, but as someone who grew up playing the genre I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth, even one I found in my bed after a Saturday night bender. Sure, it amuses me that we’ve somehow reverted back to using pixellated graphics and text-only stories despite spending so much time and effort getting away from them, but when it’s as enjoyable as The Darkside Detective it’s kind of hard to care.

You’ll be stepping into the pixellated shoes of one Detective Francis McQueen who works in the under-funded Darkside department along with his bumbling chum Officer Dooley, who is obviously named after Officer Dewey from the Scream movies. Yup, there is a fair amount of referencing going on in The Darkside Detective, but don’t fret; it doesn’t let that be the main source of its humour. As McQueen you’ll work your way through six loosely connected supernatural cases that take around a mere three hours to complete. There’s a ghost train that’s swapped places with a regular one in a fun example of the classic “opposite” dimension that gets done with some unique flair, a zombie invasion to cope with, a library that’s getting haunted and a lakeside camp with a possible monster.

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All the standard puzzle elements are here, so you’ll pick up various bits of junk littered around the environment that will undoubtedly prove useful, combine them with other bits and bobs and walk around the….wait, no. You don’t actually do that part. The Darkside Detective has largely static screens that you don’t move around. Regardless it’s all standard point and click fare.

And do you know what? As a pure puzzler it’s impossible to recommend this game. Each case is limited to just a few screens and the puzzles are very, very easy to solve. The good news is that the game’s puzzles are logical, requiring almost zero insane leaps of imagination so you’re never left clicking on things like a nutcase to progress the story. There’s a hole in a boat? Use a wooden sign with something sticky and bam, problem solved. For any veterans of the genre who plays for the satisfying eureka moments when a wonderfully devious puzzle finally comes together The Darkside Detective is going to be child’s play. And even if you’ve rarely touched an adventure game before it’s still going to be a doddle.

So why is there a recommendation sticker slapped on the end of this review like a giant pimple on a face? The fact is that while Darkside may not win any awards for its puzzles its characters and humour make it well worth experiencing for anyone who enjoys such things, especially when those two things are married to some light yet enjoyable puzzling. The star of the show is easily the relationship between Detective McQueen and his child-hood friend Dooley, whose amazing blindness to the supernatural, stupidity and loyalty all make him hugely entertaining., At first it would be easy to assume that his nearly constant presence throughout the game is merely to act as a hint-system, but in truth he’s there as joke-machine. It’s worth speaking to him in every possible screen as he always has something to say that will elicit a smile. As for the rest of the humour there’s a lot of references, like a character named Scully or the ghost of Terry Pratchett showing up, plus a lot of knowing jabs at the adventure genre, Lovecraftian horror, detective plots and other nonsense. It never completely breaks the fourth wall, but it does come close on occasion, so it’s fair to say that if you aren’t a fan of this style of humour Darkside may not be for you. With that said unlike a lot of referential humour, the joke isn’t just the reference. Far too many writers think just pointing at something familiar in pop-culture or a trope is funny in its own right, but Darkside doesn’t often make that mistake. It’s consistently funny when it isn’t just referencing other things, too.

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Graphically this is a simple game that goes way back to the days of the first Monkey Island, except it doesn’t even bother with walking animations. Talk about saving the budget, eh? Still, it’s a pretty enough game backed up by some fun music. There’s no voice-acting here, either, so it’s certainly a bare bones package in presentation sense.

By the way, there’s no true 21:9 support here. You’ll have to put up with black bars at the side of the screen. Bit of a bummer.

But on the positive side, this simplicity means it’s a polished game from start to finish. I didn’t encounter a single glitch, hiccup or even blemish along the way. In an age where it is seemingly possible to play a game without at least one problem cropping up it’s a joy to get through an entire title without having any issues. Of course, this shouldn’t even be something worth mentioning. Just goes to show you what sort of state the game industry is in, doesn’t it?

And all of this charming, pixelated fun will end far before you want it to. I mentioned before that the six cases will take you about three hours, but it’s worth repeating. Three hours. When the game draws to a close is exactly when you don’t want it to. It’s like it’s hitting its stride and then falls flat on its face.

Thus it’s a recommendation from me with a lot of conditions. Don’t buy it if you really need complex puzzles that tax your mind or if you can’t justify spending the money (£10) on something so short. If, like me, though, you love adventure games filled with sharp humour and fun characters then this is a whole lot of awesome and I really hope we get a sequel or maybe even some DLC. The standalone case system really lends itself to more adventures after all.

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