Monday 24 June 2024

The Darkside Detective Review (Steam)

Written by Thomas Sharpe

The memorable duo list is long, and while not philosophically as potent as Rosencrantz and Gildenstern, McQueen and Dooley in Darkside Detective are far funnier. I think you’re meant to find Rosencrantz and Gildenstern funny. Or maybe ribbingly meta. Or hilariously intertextual. But there’s more of the Morcombe and Wise in McQueen and Dooley, thankfully. Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are visually reminiscent of Hall and Oates, with their rakish flocculence, and this is arguably their only real source of humour.

There’s certainly more of Sam and Max with McQueen and Dooley, but without the American bombast. When, at the time of Indiana Jones and Sophia Hapgood in Fate of Atlantis, Lucasarts point and clicks never quite peaked the surreality of Sam and Max, and one could argue that McQueen and Dooley in Darkside Detective are a successful descendant. Especially in a vast landscape of over-zany (Edna and Harvey) and perhaps over-whimsical (Vella and Shay) duos that read more like a Joss Whedon script (largely interchangeable dialogue that could be attributed to any character).

Darkside Detective, with it’s allusions to a broad avenue of spooky pop-culture, delivers magic like Penn and Teller rather than Siegfried and Roy. Joyful, ironic and minimal animal abuse. The writers have managed to not just give textual homages at the rate of Pegg and Stevenson in Spaced, but incredibly gave it breathing room where others get bogged down in a referential mire. Maybe it’s just that Spooky Doorway’s silly humour lightens me rather than paws at me, much like the comparable yet different results of Reeves and Mortimer when set next to the at times cringingly try-hard Fielding and Barratt. A similar result is the products of collaborations between Pratchett and Gaiman, who maddeningly make something less playful and fun than Adams and Lloyd, with their Meaning of Liff, a true philosophical benchmark.

The puzzles and gameplay of Darkside are balanced and largely amusing, rather than the travails of Rincewind and Luggage in the egregious Discworld point and click, which is notoriously left-field. Nico and George from Broken Sword were left in the dust by contrast, despite that excruciating goat puzzle in the first game. The big and blocky pixels are a reverse of Jake and Dinos Chapman, subsuming the player in a just-rich-enough visual style to evoke nostalgia and playful simplicity in good measure. Crucially, Darkside Detective tries much less hard than the painful conceit of this missive, and is one of the funniest games I’ve played in years.

Overall 10/10

Monday 17 June 2024

Storyblock: The King Review (Switch)

There’s no shortage of puzzle games on the Switch so games need something new to standout. Storyblocks came with promises of an engaging story and alternating paths, so we were keen to pick It up. Sadly, the reality it somewhat less exciting.

The basic concept of Storyblocks is that you need to build paths from one area to another. You are presented with sort of floating islands and then need to use all the allotted path pieces to take you to another one. This advances the story to the next section.

The puzzle part comes from the fact you need to use all your allocated pieces before you can proceed. So, if you can connect from island to island with ten tiles but have been given twelve then you need to think about the shape you need to make. Some levels also have multiple routes you can go which will give you different bits of the story to read. Unfortunately, the puzzling isn’t particularly gripping.

The problem is that this is really all there is. The basic premise of the game never changes or evolves and it’s pretty light in the first place. There’re no special tiles and nothing really changes in terms of the game relating to terrain or the type of route you take. Even some animation relating to your character traveling around and facing the various challenges presented in the story would have helped.

It’s also not helped by how difficult it is to place tiles at times. Angles can be difficult to gauge and some kind of locking on feature would have really been helpful. There’s also no touch screen support either, so don’t expect to be placing things by hand.

Overall, Storyblocks: the King is a nice idea but it’s so incredibly under cooked that it’s hard to get engaged with. There are so many things that could and should have been done to improve the experience and what we have seems like a tech demo rather than a full game. Hopefully, a more fleshed out version of this concept will come later as there’s certainly some potential here.

Overall 4/10

Monday 10 June 2024

Warhammer 40,000: Dakka Squadron Flyboyz Edition Review (Switch)


Warhammer games have really struggled to establish themselves on consoles despite a rich and huge source material to draw upon. There are some excellent RTS games, such as Dawn of War on the PC, but most have struggled to really capture the feel of the universe. The Switch has had several games in the past with Shootas, Blood and Teef and Boltgun already available, but none really capturing the spirit of the board games. Dakka Squadron is taking a different approach and hoping to exploit a gap in market with dogfighting.

Daka Squadron follows the Orks as they fight each other for control of various war-torn planets. You’ll be taking to the sky in various bolted together scrap heaps that probably shouldn’t be anywhere near the air and blasting your way around arenas against turrets other planes and ground vehicles. It’s a fairly arcade based take with some minor customisation available and the tone is very much comedic and slap stick.

One thing the game does right is the controlling of the plane. The flying and combat are pretty smooth in terms of the planes themselves. It’s easy to lock on to targets and planes respond quickly and consistently. The only real problem is that there’s a weird framerate issue that seems to make the plane never really fly visually smoothly. Instead, the camera always seems to be juddering in and out slightly with can kill the impression of speed.

Visuals wise, everything is fine for the most part. You can’t always tell what you are shooting, especially in handheld mode, but the targeting circles are bright and clear, and targets give off numbered damage when attacks connect. So, you’ll always know if you are hitting something or not. The game could have benefited from a bit of Switch optimisation though as there’s a lot of data on the screen and most of it is very small. The text also suffers from this but most of the game is also voiced.

We did encounter a weird bug which happened a few times which loaded levels far too dark. Unless it’s a very poorly implemented day/night feature we don’t know about it seemed very much like the lighting just didn’t load at times which made levels impossible to see and navigate. A reload solved the issue any time we had it though.

Overall, Daka Squadron is undoubtedly rough around the edges but it’s also a weirdly good amount of knock about fun. It’s a bit juddery, there’s some bugs and the arenas are a bit enclosed, but the feeling of flying is pretty decent, and the planes are fun to control. It’s not something that’s likely to hold your attention for long periods of time but certainly worth ten minutes of zooming around from time to time.

Overall 6/10




Monday 3 June 2024

From Ants To Zombies Review


As much as we love the Bitmap Visual Compendium and Box Art books, it’s always nice when one of their more investigative releases appear. In the past we have had a host of great volumes such as The Games That Weren’t, A Gremlin in the Works and A Secret History of Mac Gaming, which aimed to make us all instant experts on overlooked areas of video game history. From Antz to Zombies falls more into this latter category as it aims to take us through the origins and thematic of everything horror, while unearthing a fair few overlooked gems along the way.

As we’ve come to expect the cover art for the book looks absolutely gorgeous. Adorned with various ghosts and beasties, it perfectly captures the feel of early creature features. The pages inside are no different with chibi pixelated monsters used to decorate pages and a good mix of screen shots and text. The consistent and thoughtful colour palette used is also well judged to fit the mood while keeping text easily visible.

Contents wise, the book is exhaustive. There are of course too many horror games for everything to be covered but you are getting over six hundred and sixty pages of curated coverage here. This covers pretty much every system from the Atari 2600 to modern day consoles (Or Atari to ZX Spectrum if you want to keep with the alphabet theme).

With such a wide area to cover the author has taken a creative approach to cataloguing all these games. Instead of by year or system, titles are categorised by their monsters. As a result, you get sections such as ‘Terror of the Abyss’ and ‘Dark Forests’ to go with the more conventional ‘Survival Horror’ tag. It’s an entertaining and effective way of linking games together while also retaining the fun B movie style the book nails perfectly.  

The writing itself is of an exceptionally high standard. The Book opens with an incredibly in depth look at the notion of horror as a genre generally, tracing it back to its origins in film and literature and then goes on to relate that in terms of how it applies to video games. It’s quite a theoretical approach but one we found fascinating, and we couldn’t help but think how useful this book would be for anyone studying game design or even horror as a genre generally.

When moving to the games themselves, the same standard of writing is present, but it changes tack to focus on what within the games acts to trigger the feelings of dread within us and how the mechanics of the games work to further help put this across. As a result, it’s an incredibly interesting read which will likely draw you in even if you have just come to flick through and look at the screen shots or use it as reference material for game hunting.

Overall, Antz to Zombies is a real highlight of the excellent Bitmap books catalogue. We always like it when someone brings a new idea and a new approach to the books and this one feels like something fresh and fun. It’s definitely up there with the constantly sought after Point and Click and JRPG Books and is pretty much essential for anyone interested in video games.

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*Picture from the Bitmap Books Website