Back in the 1990’s, Lucasarts made some of the most well-regarded games in the point-and-click genre, also known as graphic adventure games. After falling out of fashion for several years in the 2000’s, the genre once again saw a period of flourishment with numerous series released by Telltale Games and independent developers. With the closure of Telltale in recent years, indie studios remain as the driving force in keeping the genre alive and well. Argentinean developer Epic LLama seeks to help give these games the renown and exposure they once knew with their title Darkestville Castle.
Cid is a demon who fell from the sky and crashed into the town of Darkestville years ago as a baby. Ever since that day, he has terrorized its inhabitants with pranks and evil schemes, a fact they take in stride. Cid lives in a castle at the edge of town, where he plots his daily tricks with his dear stuffed bear Mr. Buttons and his pet fish Domingo. His simple nefarious life is interrupted when Dan Teapot, his self-described nemesis, hires a famous group of demon hunters to capture him. By a twist of fate, the demon hunters mistake Domingo for the demon they were contracted to dispose of, forcing Cid to chase after them and rescue his beloved pet.
Darkestville Castle is spread across several acts, taking place in the town of Darkestville and beyond. The plot is easy to follow and lighthearted despite the dark tone of its protagonist and setting. Many plot points are implied at different times, meaning you’ll have to pay particular attention to things like names and conversations to connect some of the story threads. Keep in mind that this is not necessary to complete the game or even understand the plot, but rather only serves to get a more complete understanding of character backgrounds. As such, these details are likely to be missed by some players, giving an impression of a fun but shallow plot. Given more length, the game could have elaborated on the overarching plot, but instead ends after Cid’s immediate goals are met, leaving potentially interesting bits of character development and background undeveloped.
As one would expect of a graphic adventure game, Darkestville Castle‘s gameplay entails using a point-and-click interface. You move a cursor around the screen to highlight objects and to navigate around the area. Clicking on points of interest brings up a context menu allowing you to grab, look, or talk to what is highlighted. This system works great on PC, but is a bit cumbersome while using an analog stick. Luckily, holding the up directional button highlights all of the items you can interact with on the screen. Pressing the right stick also snaps to each object for those that truly can’t be bothered with moving the cursor themselves.
Any items you find are placed into your inventory, which can be accessed at the bottom left corner of the screen. Pressing X also brings up the inventory. Items are important in graphic adventure games, as puzzles in the game are solved by using them with the right objects or people in your journey.
Several things in the game will bring bouts of nostalgia for old-school point-and-click fans. The inventory system, navigation style, humor, and music are very reminiscent of the game Lucasarts released in the 1990’s. In particular, the Monkey Island series seems like a huge influence on Darkestville Castle. The game really feels like an homage to those games, which can bring a smile to your face at times if you’ve played those games.
The issue with including so many homages to the classics is that the game will inevitably be directly compared to them. Indie developers can hardly hope to match the resources and depth of talent that studios like Sierra and Lucasarts had at the height of their success. Due to its heavy reliance on the feel and style of 1990’s adventure games, Darkestville Castle might be harder for some to see as a strong adventure game of its own. What you have to keep in mind is that it takes a certain level of talent to be able to emulate those great games, so even a faithful imitation of that spirit is a feat in itself.
Unlike the kind of puzzles you see in several other genres, the puzzles in graphic adventure games are solved by finding and using items in the right spots. For example, a person in the bar might need something to drink in order for you to obtain an important item from them, but the items needed to make that drink are scattered all over town. In addition, you will often need to combine items in your inventory to get the particular item you’ll need to give to someone or use somewhere.
The consequence of this style of puzzle is that some of the “solutions” will be hard to figure out at times. This could be items with seemingly no connection needing to be combined, or several dialogue choices needing to be selected before you are able to get the information you need. There will be many times when you have to try combining every item in your inventory or using every item on objects to see if anything works. Most of the solutions in the game make sense or can be found through conversation and examining your items, but trial and error may be needed for the more obtuse puzzles.
Peppered throughout the game are jokes and humorous situations. These mostly pop up over the course of observing objects and conversations. There is also a wealth of visual gags in the environment. The style of humor used in Darkestville Castle is quite similar to what you’d find in classic point-and-click games. There are even a few comedic references to events that take place in those games, and also to movies and video games from other genres.
Like many other aspects of the game, the cartoon look of Darkestville Castle hearkens back to legendary games like The Curse of Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle. The main character especially looks like he could have starred in one of those games. The environments and character models contain plenty of color. Those that have fond memories of the classic point-and-click games of their youth will be very comfortable with all of the visuals in this game.
The issue with this game’s art is that it’s not always consistent. As stated, the main character’s look is great, but a few of the supporting characters look like they are from a different game entirely, with art styles that clash completely with everything around them. If this came down to multiple character designers contributing toward the game, it would have been nice if there was more effort put toward cohesion between their designed characters’ appearances. There are also graphical glitches in certain regions of the game, such as stuttering in the movement of clouds. Ironing out these technical issues would have helped make the game shine more.
The music tracks you’ll hear consist of simple melodies and percussion, frequently using keyboards, metal drums, theremin, and regular drums. This creates a tropical motif that draws a huge amount from the Monkey Island series. The problem is that this style of music fits the island settings of those games, but there are no islands in Darkestville Castle whatsoever. As a result, much of the music you’ll hear will sound nice enough, but it won’t fit the tone or locations of the game all that much. To make matters worse, there are only a few tracks played throughout the game, with places like the town map and a sewer area sharing the same track, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
The game’s voice acting is generally solid. There are a few minor characters whose performances were not consistent, with accents seemingly disappearing in some of their lines. One voice actor in particular fills many of the vocal roles, including the main role of Cid. His performances are mainly satisfactory, even if a few of his voices sound like impressions of actors or characters from other games. Like any impressionist, not all of them are strong.
Darkestville Castle does not have much in the way of replay value, being an adventure game. Once the story is finished, there isn’t much else to get out of the game. However, for those inclined, there is a mode the game offers that changes up the gameplay, if not in a way that many will find appealing. When starting a new game, or through the options menu at any point while playing, you can choose to play under the Cat Mode difficulty. This changes all dialogue in the game to cat sounds. Needless to say, this gets annoying after about a minute of being activated. It also makes following the story or knowing what to do very difficult. Only those who’ve played the game and want a unique experience should bother with this mode. For most, it won’t be worthwhile though.
Darkestville Castle takes a huge dose of old-school adventure game nostalgia and injects it into the 21st Century. Some will likely find its homages a bit too on the nose, but it’s generally able to stand on its own as a fun entry in the genre. It does lack the polish some of the bigger adventure game studios had in their games, but for an indie studio to put out such a faithful adventure story is worthy of praise. Adventure fans old and new can do much worse than Darkestville Castle. It’s undoubtedly the closest we will get to a new Lucasarts graphic adventure, and that alone is more than enough reason to pick this up and enjoy some devilishly good times with Cid.
Final Rating: 7.5/10.