The Darkside Detective
Originally written and posted on Gameumentary.com.
Anyone who knows me knows I love pixel art, which is why the recent retro trend has had me in a tizzy. Some people tend to discount the style as lazy, but some of these games have had the best art styles in years, despite the low-res technique. This is why when The Darkside Detective strolled its way across my screen, I knew I was in for a treat.
The Darkside Detective is a classic point and click adventure developed and published by Spooky Doorway, their first game. Inspired after a participating in the Galway Game Jam in 2014, Paul Conway, Christopher Colston, and Tracey and Dave McCabe decided to create a team and turn their short demo into a full game. It features the Darkside Divisions Lead Detective Francis McQueen, armed with his notepad, pocket space, and bumbling sidekick, Officer Dooley. Together they solve the most mysterious cases in Twin Lakes City, the cases other detectives just don’t want.
The game is broken down into six cases, each with its own humorous name and paranormal story. You begin with two cases unlocked, and each case solved unlocks the next. Each case will send you into the city, where Officer Dooley will meet you at the scene and inform you of what’s going on. From there it’s back to the classic tradition of click on everything and talk to everyone. Characters always have something interesting to say, whether its a humorous quip or a hint to the next item.
This game has humor. I think the programmer injected it straight into the code, line by line. “Malice in Wonderland” and “Tome Alone,” the names of the first two cases, had me chuckling off the bat. The comedy intertwined throughout ranges from puns to Dooley just not quite understanding what cops do. I was never busting my gut while playing Darkside, but I definitely had a few good chuckles and never thought the comedy detracted from my enjoyment of the rest of the game.
The main puzzle solving in the game is finding all the items and where to use them – the heart of a point and click adventure. Most of this is fairly simplistic to figure out. I only got stuck at one particular part in the game, enough that I had to take a break and come back, racking my brain and meticulously searching every room until I found what I was looking for. Despite this setback, it was the only time I ever got frustrated. Peppered throughout the game are actual puzzles with their own screens. Sometimes you are rewiring a electric box or maybe fixing the piping to the sprinklers. Either way, these puzzles don’t offer much other than a few minutes of rotating objects to find the correct path. I love puzzle games, but I know I tend to overthink them and lose interest in the game. This never happened with Darkside, and I’m happy to toss it in my “Done” folder on Steam.
The music and sound design are top-notch. There’s always a satisfying sound when changing screens, either a door closing or feet shuffle. It’s not something we often praise in a game, but it stands out and helps with the flow. The music is relaxing and keeps you level-headed when you’re searching for that one item that you know has to be there somewhere. Ben Prunty, the composer, who worked on the award winning FTL: Faster Than Light, did an excellent job capturing the essence of older point-and-click games music that immerses you in the world.
As I mentioned earlier in the review, I’m a huge sucker for pixel graphics – something about conveying characters and locations in a set number of colors or sizes makes the art more challenging and the game more beautiful. Darkside does an incredible job with its style. From the police station to the deceased mafia Don’s mansion, I was taking screenshots just to use as wallpapers. The eerie green wisps in the air near ghosts or the faint glow of a candle in the library really enhance the art, bringing a whole sense of realism – for lack of a better term – to the environments.
The Darkside Detective left me wanting more. The game isn’t hugely innovative on the puzzles, but the neat stories and humor are what kept me playing. The developers mention in the end credits of the game that they would love to continue the adventures of McQueen and Dooley if the sell enough copies. Whether or not this happens, I am looking forward to whatever Spooky Doorway does next.