As blurry as the line has become on what constitutes an adventure game, Hyper Games’ dexterity-driven, dual-character, isometric light-and-dark puzzler Mørkredd will doubtless be a step too far for some. Nevertheless, there’s no denying it’s a fun little game in its own right, alone if necessary but especially when played with a co-op buddy. With no emphasis on story, this is a surprisingly diverse experience focused on its core game mechanics of rolling a large orb through the darkness without stepping beyond the radius of its life-giving light.
Mørkredd provides a pair of avatars for one or two players to take control of. Perpetually shrouded in darkness, it’s hard to discern much about these cyphers, other than one wears a trench coat and the other an Egyptian headdress. The lack of detail isn’t an obstruction, however, due to the abstract nature of the game. When playing with a partner, each player takes control of one of these figures to guide through the various stages. Although intended for couch-play, which could prove awkward under the COVID social distancing restrictions, fortunately solutions exist for playing such games remotely. In this case, me and my friend, isolated in our respective homes, availed ourselves of Steam’s built-in Remote Play option and didn’t have any troubles.
The nature of the game is straightforward enough: together you must push a glowing orb through the assorted levels, keeping it safe from such hazards as cliff edges, giant flightless mosquitos, archers, and oversized polyps that drain it of light. Not that the characters themselves are invincible; far from it. Stepping into the darkness that exists outside the light radius of the orb will very quickly kill either avatar, forcing both to restart at the last checkpoint, denoted by glowing diamond sigils in the floor.
Straying too far from the orb isn’t the only thing that results in death. As an avatar moves around the orb, it casts its own shadow away from the orb. If that shadow sweeps over the other character, or that character inadvertently steps into it, the result is the same: death in darkness. It’s in coordinating movements around the sphere between players to stay safe from one another’s shadows that the game is at its most fun. Just when you think you’re going to reach your destination to overcome a given obstacle … uh, oh! Shadow. My friend and I shared quite a lot of laughter over our numerous demises.
While that may sound daunting, challenges in Mørkredd tend toward being easy. There are only one or two head-scratching moments in the game that require careful thinking and even more careful maneuvering to overcome. For the most part, difficulty comes from keeping the orb under control and from staying clear of one anothers’ shadows.
Tasks range from as simple as rolling the orb through a forest of light-draining polyps to reach a glow regenerator before the orb goes out, to as complex as having one player sliding barriers to allow light to shine on a thin, twisting walkway while the other player navigates that path without falling into darkness. Gameplay possibilities abound: levers and pressure pads can open doorways. Occasional light gems can be picked up like a football to allow the avatars to roam farther. Giant, glowing slugs can be followed through the darkness at times when separated from the light orb. Shadows can be cast onto enemies to kill or blind them before they can harm the sphere.
Yep, you read that right: enemies. Certain creatures are actively working against the orb. There are large black grubs that attempt to slow it or push it off course. Human-sized mosquitos with no wings stalk along on foot, trying to get close enough to the sphere to pop it. Later in the game, shadow warriors appear and shoot arrows to try to destroy the light. These foes can be dealt with either by running into them, such as stepping on the grubs to squash them, or by casting your avatar’s shadow onto them, thereby destroying them in the same way as when you step into shadow. Between the environmental challenges and the occasional opponents that appear, there’s a good number of different obstacles to overcome in the game’s three-hour playtime, and all done without a needlessly complicated interface.
Controlling the avatars is straightforward enough. Whether using a keyboard or the thumbstick of a game controller to maneuver the characters around on-screen, bumping into the orb causes it to be pushed along in the appropriate direction. Here the controller works a bit better as there are times when the sphere needs to be moved in a direction that doesn’t fit the more restricted headings of the keyboard. Beyond that, each player has a single interact button that can be used to pick up the occasional glowing gem or held to pull switches and levers.
While the game was designed with the intention of two people playing cooperatively, the simplicity of the controls also allows it to be played in single-player mode. In this case, separate thumbsticks and buttons on a controller or different keys on a keyboard are used to direct the avatars. This is a little more challenging as you’ll sometimes need to split your attention and have both characters doing different things at the same time.
Either way, Mørkredd keeps the focus on its light-and-shadow gameplay for most of its duration. These are well-oiled mechanics that feel natural and it takes no time at all to pick them up. It’s curious then that the final obstacle course in the game abandons this setup entirely. Instead there is an extended timed sequence littered with shadow warriors trying to shoot the orb. The incoming volleys of arrows aren’t quite dense enough to be called bullet-hell – more of a bullet-heck – but the manual dexterity needed in this section was difficult enough for us to require multiple attempts to pass. It’s a tedious last segment to play through and the final reward for doing so is rather disappointing.
The game is clearly trying for an artistic “what does it all mean” ending without any clear answers. The problem with such a finale is that it leaves you wondering, what does it all mean? Ultimately, my friend and I felt that the story elements – the ending and various murals along the way that can optionally be discovered – were simply tacked onto what is otherwise an abstract conceptual game. Fortunately, the core gameplay mechanics are engaging enough that no concrete narrative is needed, and what few elements of one that exist are easily disregarded as irrelevant.
Despite the game’s stark shadow-heavy appearance with only subtle changes in the muted palette, there’s some nice detail and variety in what’s illuminated. In the initial levels you’ll find yourself guiding the orb through what appear to be ancient ruins. Later, more organic forms begin to emerge with tentacled Cthulhu-esque creatures seen in the distance, their gargantuan eyes opening to keep tabs on your progress. Still later, you’ll be devoured whole by one of these beings and play out the remaining levels inside its organic and disgusting innards. The whys are never explained, but with no plot to follow they don’t really need to be.
For the sounds to go with the sights I had to go back and do a partial solo replay. In order to better communicate online, when my friend and I were playing I had the game’s audio cranked way down. Restoring it on my own didn’t appreciably make a difference, though. Most of the “music” consists only of simple, sonorous tones that make the dark settings a bit more eerie but quickly receded from my consciousness within a few minutes of playing. There’s no dialogue at all, while sound effects are also minimal and tend to be tonal as well, rather than literal.
Ultimately, there may be little about Mørkredd to appeal to adventure purists. Indeed, with a focus on manual dexterity rather than story or characterization, and with only light puzzle-solving elements to contend with, it’s fair to ask if this is an adventure game at all. However, for those with broader tastes than the usual genre fare, it’s a quick play with a moody presentation and fun mechanics. While you certainly can play alone, given these times of social distancing, it’s also a nice way to connect with someone for an evening or two of co-operative entertainment and sharing some laughs. Just remember, this is one time you definitely do want to go into the light.
Mørkredd’s mechanics of staying in the light while shadows abound are engaging and fun, especially with a partner, but a focus on manual dexterity and lack of story and characters won’t appeal to adventure game purists.
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