The Darkside Detective really wants you to know that its development team grew up watching TV and movies from the ‘80s and ‘90s. Whether it’s the point-and-click based gameplay that hearkens back to classics such as The Secret Of Monkey Island and Day Of The Tentacle or the referential-heavy dialogue, there’s always a pop culture plug just around the corner to take you back to the days of old. And while this is all well and good, particularly if you’re reading this in your 40s, is there a quality experience to back this up?
You take up the reigns as Detective McQueen, whom along with his sidekick Officer Dooley, must solve six standalone cases within the city of Twin Falls. What does link them all together however is the presence of portals that are warping townsfolk to another world called the Darkside. And of course, it’s your job to put an end to that.
Your enjoyment of the plot is going to be based heavily around whether you understand the references made and how funny you deem the jokes to be. If you manage to gel with the vibe, you’re in for a good time as laughs are aplenty and the remarks are probably ones you and your friends would make yourselves. However if the references pass over your head, you’re going to have a tougher time. In this case you’ll be left with the story itself, which is rather lacking when stripped down to its core.
There’s very little world building to be found in Twin Falls, and equally so for the Darkside, which is relegated to short stretches of gameplay in each case. You learn little of the world you’re exploring, and it’s the gags that are trying to cover this up. Occasionally you’ll bump into the ghosts of famous historic people such as Edgar Allan Poe, HP Lovecraft, and even the fictional Pennywise the Clown, but they too feel like more of a vehicle to another set of jokes than an actual plot device.
Navigation of the locations you do come across is performed by the simple point-and-click mechanic. Selecting doors will transport you to that room, highlighting objects may either have the detective duo strike up a conversation about it or pick it up and place it in your inventory, and choosing to interact with other characters will trigger a discussion that sometimes comes with a few basic dialogue options. Easy peasy. Things get more complicated when it comes to utilising your inventory within the environment, where equipment can be used to interact with certain objects to push the story forward. This is then built upon by the ability to combine the gadgets in your inventory together to create entirely new things.
Some games in the point-and-click genre have built up reputations as being annoyingly obtuse and vague, as you hopelessly wander environments in search of something to interact with. Thankfully, TDD isn’t one of those games. The locales you visit all feel manageable in terms of size, and if you do find an object that can be picked up, its use normally isn’t far behind. The game keeps things simple in this regard, and it’s a better overall experience for it.
Presentation wise, developer Spooky Doorway has absolutely knocked it out of the park. The pixelated graphics blend well with the humorous tone and thanks to a vibrant colour palette, the overall look is a joy to observe. And when combined with even better audio design, TDD reaches even greater heights. The soundtrack has been pulled straight out of a 1980’s synthesizer, and it creates an atmosphere that rivals the likes of the more recent Stranger Things. The game is an audio and visual stunner, proving that the old-school look can more than just hack it in 2018.
While it is spectacular to look at, the experience will be over fairly quickly thanks to one drawback coming in the form of the title’s length, with the six cases only taking up around five to six hours of your time. And with any replay value being pretty much non-existent, a second playthrough would only spawn out of pure enjoyment, rather than taking the plot in a different direction.
If you think you’d get a lot out of the referential humour found in The Darkside Detective, you’re in for a treat. Its simple gameplay will complement the jokes, the pixelated look continues to impress, and the auditory experience on offer is up there with the best. It’s a shame then that if you’re more of a millennial, then much of this will be lost on you. The puns and pranks will fly over your head, and in that situation, you’re left with the basic gameplay loop that doesn’t really do enough to satisfy on its own. In essence, it’s only really a choice you alone can make. If you think you’ll vibe with TDD is going for then you’re in for a good time, but if not, you’re almost certainly best left looking elsewhere.