Hello, boys and girls. I may not have been very active as of late but when a company gets in touch with me, hands me a game and asks me for my honest opinion, I’m always willing to make the effort. Just saying, all you companies out there, you need me to review a game, I’m your guy! So for that reason, here’s a review of Darkarta.
It’s not often that a company gets in touch with me directly. There’s been one or two over the years since I started reviewing HOPA here but for the most part, I review what I want. And I want to make something clear, just because you offer to give me a game, doesn’t mean I will necessarily accept. It’s all about time and, let’s be honest, motivation from my side. I’ll always do my best but some times I just don’t have the time or the inklination. And I’ll be honest about it too.
But that wasn’t the case here. When TuttiFrutti Interactive got in touch with me and asked me to review Darkarta, I was actually rather pleased. I’ve been keeping an eye on this game for quite a while but never seemed to find the time to buy and play it. It’s not a particularly new game at this point, it’s been kicking around on Steam for a year now so I was surprised that they wanted me to review it so late. There’s a reason for that but we’ll get to that. First, let’s get some basics out of the way.
When your parents died, you were but a small child. As an orphan, you longed for a family of your own and if you couldn’t have one since birth, you vowed to make your own. Now, many years later, you finally have a husband and a beautiful daughter. You are happier. And even happier still when you receive a letter saying that you were never as alone as you thought you were. Your grandparents are still alive and want to see you. But on your way to meet them, a man swoops down on a winged buffalo and steals your daughter. With your husband hurt and fighting for his life, you must race after your daughter… and set right things done wrong a lifetime ago.
Darkarta is, as far as I can tell, the one and only HOPA by Tuttifrutti Interactive. And from what I can tell, it’s more of a demo game than anything else. Let me explain: looking at Tuttifrutti’s own webpage, they’re a company for hire that does a lot of art. And looking at some of the stuff on their page, they’re an impressive bunch. Seriously, I’d love to see more of their vehicle designs judging exclusively from what I’ve seen there. And this game is absolutely gorgeous.
I’m not saying it has no other value or that it’s somehow inferior in any other department. I’ll cover it all in good time but right off the bat I can say that Darkarta is one of the best looking HOPA I’ve seen in… years. The fact that this is from last year makes that sting just a little more. Cause most HOPAs from this year still can’t touch it in this department.
Everything from the scenery to the 2D cutscenes to a few 3D animations are gorgeous and pulled off really well. While there are some aspects that didn’t quite live up to the rest, especially in the 2D facial animations, it’s a nitpick at the best of times and an utterly pointless comment at the worst of times. It’s probably nothing the average player would even reflect upon. I bring up the facial animations in particular cause it was probably some of the best I’ve seen in a HOPA.
No joke, other studios do them well enough, I guess, but there was just such quality and detail to them here that it only reinforces my previous belief that you either have to do an amazing job with them or barely bother at all. Half-measures actually only hurt the game more than not trying at all. I guess it’s the Uncanny Valley-effect but here, for the most part, they were just good enough that they didn’t bother me at all.
They came somewhere inbetween realistic and stylistic enough that they walked a fine line that most other HOPAs, and 2D games in general, don’t manage. Towards the end I did notice that they were becoming more sparse, however, but overall it wasn’t something I thought about that much. The cutscenes themselves were also very, very good and that first time you see the villain atop his winged buffalo… well, it was just so good.
My only complaint with the graphics that in many areas, I found the color palette to be a bit… dull. And limited. The further into the game, the more fantastic the environments get and the game is better for it. When you’re just trudging through boring reality, colors didn’t quite pop as much as they should. This also made some environments hard to search since not all interactive areas were as immediately visible as they should be. And some interactive areas had a tiny interactive area to get you started.
And that’s kind of what I mean by this being a demo game. If the art here doesn’t sell you on Tuttifrutti’s qualifications as artists, well, I’m not sure what you were really looking for. I foresee a bright future for them on Big Fish. Well… more on that later.
Now, gorgeous graphics or not (I reiterate that they were gorgeous), the game can’t stand on that alone… well, I guess it mostly could. But luckily, just because Tuttifrutti happens to excel at art, doesn’t mean the other departments suffered. If this was their debut game, it’s one to be reckoned with for sure.
Let’s start with what gave the genre its name: the hidden object scenes. Now, let me preface this by saying they were by no means bad. If anything, they were quite excellent. You’re never really overburdened with the amount of hidden object scenes and they are very well drawn and planned. And there was quite a good variety of them too: mostly list-based ones but a few fragmented object ones popped up, one where you had to guess the objects based on riddles, some silhouttes and some where you had to do everything in sequence to get the last object. And some had you do more than one kind.
In other words, just about everything that I need out of a HOPA… just about. My one issue with this, that doesn’t tie into the graphics, is that they were a bit… on the easy side, I guess? To be fair, I played this on casual so it could be that I simply missed a setting where it said difficulty but for most of the time, I breezed through the hidden object scenes without much resistance. Some put up a half-decent fight but after enjoying the graphics for a while, it rarely took me more than a minute or so to get by.
Hell, as my achievements will prove, I got through one in less than thirty seconds. Hey, I wouldn’t have known that if Tuttifrutti hadn’t put the achievement there. Just sayin’…
There were some that were quite unique, however, or at least rare enough that I can’t really remember the last time I saw something similar. The one where you’re looking through a pair of binoculars, damn, that really got me into it. More of that, please!
Perhaps for new people to the genre or players who don’t play quite as much HOPA as I do, it’d offer more of a substantial challenge. Again, they were in no way bad, just a bit easy… for me.
Which brings me to the puzzles.
Take more or less exactly what I said about the hidden object scenes and you get what I think about the puzzles. With one added caveat: there were a lot of very creative and original twists on established puzzles. Some just made me long for longer, more challenging versions of the same puzzles. Or solving multiple of them in a row. The one pictured above in particular made me giddy cause it was so darned creative and original, it was hard not to smile as I solved it.
Some puzzles were just variations of the same old but many had a unique twist to them or they put two puzzles together, having one lead into another. Like the one pictured above, which is a maze game and one that has you figure out a pattern. On their own, they’re nothing special but put them together, like here, and you get something that may not be wholly original but damn creative. It’s very simple twists like that that made me overlook the simple fact that many of the puzzles were simply too easy. There were quite a few jigsaw and memory puzzles in there and they seemed to get more numerous towards the end.
Not that they didn’t try to put a spin on them even there but at that time it felt more akin to what you normally get from a HOPA and less of the creativity that set them apart in the beginning.
Again, I feel obligated to point out that they weren’t bad. And they had a lot of sequence minigames where you’re either brewing a potion or putting together a contraption and have to do things in a certain order which… well, I’ve always been a fan. Perhaps make the instructions a little less on the nose, though, keep some challenge to it. Perhaps remove a few steps or have you improvise if you’re missing a knife or something like that. Perhaps use some of the apparatuses in a way that they weren’t intended? Play around with it a bit more, is what I’m saying.
But again I feel the need to say that they weren’t bad. Just… not as good as they could’ve been. And a lot of this probably comes down to me. I probably would’ve struggled if I didn’t have more than one hundred HOPAs and a few Layton-games under my belt. But again, I come back to suggesting having a variable difficulty, it seems like such an easy fix, to me, and if anyone ever wants a few suggestions, I’ll gladly list mine.
So, that really only leaves us with two points to discuss story and music. And let’s get the music out of the way first: I have no opinion on the music. Sadly, it wasn’t really music that gripped me in any particular way. Ask me to hum any of it and I’d draw a complete blank. I didn’t hate it. If I hate music I typically remember it but if it’s just… meh? Then you’d be lucky if I could hum it while listening to it. I’m sure it’ll fit someone’s taste much more than mine but personally it was very… okay.
So then, the story. I am extremely torn on this for a few reasons. On one hand, the fact that it’s clearly inspired by a mythology and belief other than a western one is greatly welcomed. It starts out generically enough but once you enter the “Lost World” it takes on a far more oriental look and feel. Much of the game gives us things we aren’t quite as used to like flying buffalos so on that side, good going.
On the other hand, they’re trying to sell the story of a mother searching for her daughter as something wholly unique which… it plain isn’t. Not in HOPA circles at the very least. I could name multiple games based on this off the top of my head so it didn’t really light my passion on fire, as it were. And much to do about the little girl was just so incredibly cheesy. It’s possible this might hit a stronger note with an actual parent and not a thirty something bachelor but cutting to the kid one time was good, cutting to her crying multiple times without actually forwarding the plot was a bit manipulative.
But some of the twists in the plot were nice if a bit convoluted at times. I’m still not entirely sure what role some figures actually played in the overall story and some beats were repeated a few too many times. Like, for real, how many times can a goddess pop up in front of me and throw some taunts my way, block my path and then disappear? I mean, come on, after the first time, you don’t get to be surprised when I destroy your obstacle AGAIN. However, I DID like the whole reincarnation thing and the ending really got to me.
I thought to myself: here’s a HOPA that really takes the parent-thing to the edge and then right over it. But sadly the Bonus Chapter actually took away much of the weight of the ending which was a genuine shame, in my opinion. Although hinted at, I actually recommend anyone who plays this to simply not play the bonus chapter. I personally found the main game ending to be far more powerful.
Not all stories need to have a happy ending.
All of this said, though, I really enjoyed Darkarta. The fact that I finally got to play it after hovering around it on steam for so long is a great joy but more than that, I’m super happy that all my expectations and hype… actually paid off. Now, I may have complained a lot but as a critic I think it’s not just my job to give the players an idea about the game but also the developers what I didn’t so they can maybe change things up if they think my complainst have validity to them. But they are minor things and I will always find things to complain about, it’s sadly in my nature.
If you’re looking for a HOPA that can offer you something new, Darkarta definitely has you covered. But what if you’re not on Steam? Well, guess, what! You’re in luck! At least if you’re on Big Fish because from June 5th, it will be available on Big Fish’s platform. I will add a link for you to click on here if you’re interested in that, of course. Once it’s released! Hence why I got my review copy!
Now, Tuttifrutti wasn’t on my radar before but they sure are now. If nothing else, I hope this brings them in lots of business. And, if all things go well, they might even see fit to release a sequel to Darkarta in the future. Or perhaps something entirely new. I’m always eager and happy to see a new studio get a moment to shine.
If you want to buy the game from Big Fish Games, you can do so here: “Darkarta: A Broken Heart’s Quest“