First Impressions: Fall in the Dark
Posted by Sean Aaron
Fail in the Dark
Fall in the Dark looks pretty good on paper: take an adventurer and guide him through a series of levels in six different worlds with gameplay that's a mix of Toki Tori and Montezuma's Revenge: difficult puzzling combined with 8-bit visuals and gameplay could be good, right? Well it would be except for some rather bizarre level design and worse game mechanics.
Your Indiana Jones-wannabe is trying to get treasure as he travels through some underground passages presented across both screens of your DSi. You have a handful of tools at your disposal to navigate from the start to the exit. Though your adventurer cannot climb anything he can survive drops from ridiculous heights, so all you'll need is a pickaxe to dig holes and a balloon to get up out of them. It's pretty straightforward, save for some rather poor choices on the part of the developers.
You would think this late into the lifecycle of the DS family that developers would know how to present information across both screens, but sadly, no. In many cases levels will have ledges effectively where the hinges are: you'll see a room apparently without a ceiling in the lower screen where there's gold or a key you want, only to move down and find that there's a ceiling. Very sloppy and, when you have a very limited number of axes in most levels, very costly if you make assumptions about what isn't being shown to you. Clearly the ability to pan the screen would have addressed this, but strangely there's no stylus support and only three buttons used in the game: A to dig holes, X to float balloons and Start to use a life and restart when you get stuck. That's right, the button that traditionally pauses the game kills you instead!
If trying to pause the game causing death wasn't enough, you'll be happy to know that sometimes after you've used up a precious balloon to get a treasure chest it will release poison gas instead, instantly killing you. On the plus side, knowing there's a chance of enticing treasure chests bringing instant death means no wasting time trying to reach them. Instead you can focus on getting swords which, rather bizarrely, give you an extra life. It's been a long time since we've seen quality game design like this, folks. And that takes us to the crowning achievement in this game: digging holes as game-ending mechanic.
Digging holes in games has a long and proud tradition, which we most associate with Universal's arcade classic Space Panic. You only need to press the button once to dig your hole in Fall in the Dark, but unlike Space Panic (or real life) your pickaxe only gets one use. This wouldn't be a problem, but for the game's rather funny notions about where that hole is going to be. Normally you'd expect that if your character is facing a direction the hole would appear right next to him and usually it is – unless there's a wall nearby, in which case the hole appears at a position diagonal to your character beneath the wall if you're too close. You won't know if you're exactly the right number of pixels away from the wall to prevent an unusable hole being dug until it's too late and usually you can't afford to waste a pickaxe, so it's time to press the Start button.
Better still, around level six of the first world you'll encounter a level that seemingly cannot be completed because there's a block right over the top of the exit door, which is at the bottom of a shaft one block wide. Since you cannot dig through the block immediately below you and you cannot dig through a wall we weren't quite sure how to proceed, but a number of diagonal holes later and we really didn't care any more.
Suffice it to say Fall in the Dark is a game with entirely the wrong kind of retro flavour. It would be funny to see lampooned in an Internet video if it was a forgotten Famicom game, but not as funny if you've just dropped 500 Points on it. We'd recommend digging around this game rather than "digging in," dig?