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As if the prom­ise of para­nor­mal/po­lice, ad­ven­ture game vi­gnettes wasn’t ex­cit­ing enough, The Darkside De­tec­tive has mu­sic by Ben Prunty, the com­poser for FTL. In fact, he re­cently Skyped into my In­ter­ac­tive Me­dia class to tell us about the mu­sic he was mak­ing for Darkside De­tec­tive’s mu­seum. (And now you are aware I have friendly and pro­fes­sional deal­ings with one of the de­vel­op­ers.) And yes, the spooky mu­sic was en­gag­ing, but not dis­tract­ing, sup­port­ing the ex­tra­or­di­nary aes­thetic pre­sen­ta­tion. This was in­vari­ably lovely to look at, lis­ten to and read.

You be­gin with six po­lice files, two of which are se­lectable. Each are small ad­ven­ture games which McQueen and his goofy part­ner, Doo­ley, must com­plete so you can progress. As Darkside De­tec­tives, they deal with ghosts and the oc­cult. Cases start sim­ply, with a girl be­ing ab­ducted in strange cir­cum­stances. Later, one takes you into the Darkside, where you’ll meet all sorts of con­fus­ing ver­sions of fa­mil­iar peo­ple. Hi­lar­i­ously, one ad­ven­ture is even set in­side the po­lice precinct and you start to un­der­stand the pol­i­tics of the de­tec­tives’ po­si­tion.

This is not to sug­gest the sto­ry­telling is, in any way, se­ri­ous. In fact, it’s un­re­lent­ingly ridicu­lous. The li­brary in par­tic­u­lar is full of books like, “Turn­ing Duct Tape into Pants. Mak­ing your nethers sus­tain­able,” and “Guy­light. The heart­break­ing tale of a girl who

falls in love with a re­verse vam­pire,” fol­lowed by more jokes about duct tape and re­verse vam­pires. The per­pe­tra­tors of crime will tell you they’re guilty be­fore you’ve even asked their name. The vic­tims will ig­nore you en­tirely and some­how even Doo­ley will fail to ac­knowl­edge your clever prob­lem solv­ing.

That this is bro­ken strictly into six, small slices makes puz­zling re­ally trans­par­ent. It’s easy to un­der­stand what needs to be done and you can set about do­ing it in a way that never feels over­whelm­ing or silly. Get­ting stuck is like, “I need to com­plete this goal. I know of eight rooms, have five ob­jects and two peo­ple to speak to, this is achiev­able,” rather than, “I have no idea how to start solv­ing this or what to do next.” I was un­able to progress for prob­a­bly about five min­utes over the en­tire game and the for­ward mo­men­tum was re­fresh­ing.

Does the “small” as­pect to puz­zling and pre­sen­ta­tion mean the de­sign­ers are learn­ing how to make ad­ven­tures? No. In fact, there are so many tropes and genre-ref­er­enc­ing mo­ments that I some­how fin­ished up feel­ing like I’d played a re­dux of ev­ery ad­ven­ture game in ex­is­tence. Meet­ing the ghost of Enid Bly­ton even re­minded me of the “strict Bri­tish board­ing school” ad­ven­ture games I used to plan on pa­per, when I was a child. That’s not em­bar­rass­ing, is it? This is some­thing we all did, right?

Over­all, I was left with the im­pres­sion of The Darkside De­tec­tive be­ing metic­u­lously planned and crafted. You may only have a lim­ited win­dow into a de­tailed world, but the story is en­gag­ing and co­her­ent. It’s not stren­u­ous and is fun to play alone or with the fam­ily. I’d rec­om­mend this for fans of the genre, as well as new­com­ers, be­cause I’d per­son­ally like to play more ad­ven­tures where frus­tra­tion isn’t the only way to feel clever. Much like the “cof­fee break” games I’ve re­viewed this year, see this as six, bite-sized treats to en­joy in spare mo­ments.

I fin­ished up feel­ing like I’d played a re­dux of ev­ery ad­ven­ture game in ex­is­tence

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