Developer: Spooky Doorway
Publisher: Isometric Dreams
Category: Adventure, Puzzle
Release Date: 02.07.2018
Darkside Detective for Nintendo Switch is another great entry in the point and click adventure genre that seems to have found new life on the Nintendo Switch. It is obviously inspired by the old classics of the Monkey Island series, Simon the Sorcerer, and Full Throttle. In what is probably a serendipitous moment akin to “A Bug’s Life” and “Antz”, Spooky Doorway also developed a point and click adventure game that takes shots at the X-Files and Twin Peaks at the same time that Thimbleweed Park was being developed, and had a similar theme. While the games are both point and click adventure games that take jabs at a specific subgenre of crime shows, they’re completely different experiences and handle a well-tread path using different strides. Thimbleweed Park is obviously going to be a direct evolution of the old Monkey Island games, also having been developed by Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick. Darkside Detective breaks it into more manageable chunks more well suited as palate cleansers.
Darkside Detective is set up as an adventure game to be tackled in quick bursts, which is a welcome take on the genre to begin with. We begin the game by learning that there has been an incompetent police officer assigned to the Darkside Division alongside our hero, Detective Francis McQueen, Officer Patrick Dooley. Dooley plays the role of foil to Det. McQueen’s knowledge of the supernatural, and ranges from skeptical observer, oblivious participant, all the way to just plainly being in denial.
We are presented with case files that are each self-contained missions that must be completed in order to unlock the next case. These cases will vary a little in length, depending on your personal skill level, but none are particularly long. Their emphasis is on the player solving one case in a 20-30 minute session. This helps drive the game along and helps to keep it fun. There are never any slow, frustrating moments that find you backtracking or frantically clicking around the screen trying to figure out which items to combine or where to use them at. It is always refreshing when you don’t have an inventory full of useless items that “maybe I’ll use later”, and you don’t have to just wildly stab in the dark at item combinations. Every so often, we are presented with a mini-game to make something work again. These are one time solutions to familiar puzzle games like Pipe Dream and Lights Out. These puzzles add a little bit of variety to the gameplay itself, but they are easily the weakest portions of Darkside Detective.
Darkside Detective is full of charming characters, loving nods to the series that have inspired it, oddball statements, and fourth wall breaking humor. You can definitely see the love for these classic adventure games here, and you’ll only love finding those little Easter Eggs if you’ve loved those games yourself. Unfortunately, if you’re unfamiliar with these games, a lot of the visuals and jokes may fall flat. This could hinder your enjoyment of Darkside Detective, but I think that most of the exchanges and situations stand on their own well enough that most of these references can probably be ignored without taking away too much.
The choice of pixel art was an obvious nod to their inspiration as well. The sprites are the epitome of minimalist design (featureless faces, for one example), but the animations are beautifully done. The music is atmospheric and is fun to listen to. They’re not super catchy or memorable, but you won’t be scrambling for the mute button, either. NPCs provide a lot of humorous banter, and sometimes I would speak to the same person a couple of times just to read their ramblings again.
Beyond the aforementioned minigames, Darkside Detective has few drawbacks. Its first offense here is the short runtime. While having bitesize cases easily solvable in under a half hour is an amazing way of presenting the game, it’s 3-4 hour overall runtime is disappointing. After finishing the cases, I felt very little motivation to go back through and play earlier cases again, but I still wanted more content. This ties in with our next problem – there is little to no replayability. Yes, the game is charming and the NPCs will make you giggle a bit, but very little was done to compel you to play again.
Darkside Detective is a fun and unique experience broken in to bite size pieces for shorter play sessions. It oozes charm and will have you chuckling for its admittedly too short runtime. The minigames are a little weak compared to the rest of the game, but then you remember that you helped settle an argument between spectral Edgar Allan Poe and spectral H.P. Lovecraft over who wrote the scariest stories of all time, which was further exacerbated by a spectral Enid Blyton.
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