Apparently no one accepts Evil Card.
Really, two things go into making a good adventure game: story and puzzles. You can lean in one direction or the other, but effective use of both can create a truly timeless experience. I say this having grown up with games from the Leisure Suit Larry, Gabriel Knight, and Monkey Island series (not to mention the glorious Full Throttle).
Darkestville Castle is a throwback to these games, albeit with better graphics and a cleaner user interface. It puts us in control of a character named Cid, a likeable but mischievous demon who spends his days tormenting (or at least inconveniencing) the citizens of Darkestville. The townsfolk mostly brush Cid off as little more than an occasional annoyance, but a fellow named Dan Teapot has hired a team of Demon Hunters—the Romero Brothers—to capture and remove Cid from town and life.
The fact that the Romero Brothers consist of Walrus, Mongoose, and their sister, Foxy, is a good indication of the type of humor you’ll get throughout the game.
After some opening puzzles, the Romero Brothers accidentally capture Cid’s pet fish, thinking that was their target. Cid sets out to free the fish, and…well, I’ll just say wackiness ensues.
As you’d expect from a point-and-click adventure, Darkestville Castle leads you through a series of puzzles that involve exploration, conversation, and inventory manipulation. The bulk of the game is spent wandering from location to location to see what you can find and how it can help you progress. Hitting up on the D-pad reveals with which items you can interact, so you’ll know if you need to spend time examining a trash can, for example. “Clicking” on an item/character pulls up the option to either examine it, take it or talk to it. Taking it adds the item to your inventory, while talking pulls up dialogue options to navigate. Most are presented for comedy only, and there didn’t seem to be any penalties for choosing the wrong option. Just read them all and eventually you’ll hit the one that unlocks something important.
The puzzles play out as you’d expect. For example, an early one requires you to enter the Mayor’s office, but you’re not on the agenda for the day. So, you need to figure out how to get the planner away from the secretary, add your name to it, and get it back to her without getting caught. In true adventure-game fashion (and with some light spoilers ahead), this will require a bicycle horn, a feather from an insomniac pigeon, and ink from a hot dog vendor. But how do you get the pigeon down from its perch, and how do you get the vendor to give up his “special sauce?”
Darkestville Castle will sometimes point you in the right direction, using dialogue or visual cues to lead the way (newly flickering lights, for example). Still, you’re going to spend a good deal of time wandering aimlessly in hopes of finding something new. A good memory will help, too, when you suddenly find something like glue solvent and have to recall where you saw that cabinet that was stuck shut. You’re also going to spend some time just randomly combining items to discover what works together. As in most point-and-click puzzle/adventure games like this, you’ll split time congratulating yourself for your cleverness and explaining to the game there’s no way any logical human being would’ve thought to use those items in that way.
But that’s pretty much part of the fun with adventure games, and Darkestville Castle does all of this with a nod and a wink. Cid’s jokes miss as often as they hit, but you feel like he’s in on the gag.
He knew you were going to try to solve a puzzle a certain way, and was ready with a gentle insult or reference joke.
Some of the gags do come off as tone-deaf in today’s social climate, but it’s forgivable considering the game was released for PC in 2017. More importantly, nothing here is in poor taste. I played the game with my nine-year-old, and nothing in it led to a “teachable moment.”
The general levity carries through to the graphics, too, which are very whimsical and engaging. Darkestville is actually quite colorful and bright, and so are its inhabitants. Cid himself appears to be a cross between Jack Skellington and that robot thing from The Orville, but dressed like Captain Jack Sparrow. And that’s fine, as I imagine fans of any of those shows will find something to enjoy here.
Most of the voice acting is pretty good, too. A couple characters strain too hard to be funny, however. And worse, the recording quality in some scenes jumps around as if someone was dozing off at the mixing board.
Although seasoned adventurers can complete the game in under 10 hours, parts of it still seem to drag. I’ll admit to consulting a walkthrough just to make sure I wasn’t wasting my time trying to solve puzzles without first acquiring the right objects. Considering the short duration, the game never wears out its welcome. That’s good, because although the proceedings draw to a decent conclusion, some harder puzzles at the end could put you off if you’d spent, say, twice as long to reach them.
Overall, however, Darkestville Castle manages to rise above the homage it wanted to be and becomes memorable on its own. I enjoyed my time with Cid, and I’d like to hang out with him again.
Review: Darkestville Castle (Nintendo Switch)
Although it wears its inspirations on its sleeve, you needn’t have knowledge of point-and-click adventure classics to enjoy Darkestville Castle. The jokes are fine, the characters are fun, and the puzzles are comfortably illogical. Enjoy your visit.