Review for The Darkside Detective: A Fumble in the Dark
Way back in 2017, the first season of The Darkside Detective, a little pixel art indie game by Spooky Doorway, earned high praise and won Adventure Gamers’ Aggie Award for Best Comedy Writing, and since then much of our time has felt like being in a dark, inky void, waiting for more. Finally, that day has come! The Darkside Detective: A Fumble in the Dark is an all-new anthology of paranormal cases, following Detective McQueen and his partner Officer Dooley on yet another cavalcade of adventures through the strange and supernatural, with just as many laughs and weird happenings as its predecessor.
[Spoiler alert regarding the ending of a season one bonus case] The second six-part season picks up where “Baits Motel” left off: Dooley’s vanished! After making a rather idiotic wish to a magical genie, Dooley disappeared for parts unknown, aka the Darkside, a sort of parallel dimension to ours inhabited by demons, ghosts, gremlins and all manner of weirdness. McQueen is inconsolable without his best friend, and has taken time off from work to search for him endlessly, while without the two of them the Darkside Division has been shut down. [End spoiler]
Of course, it wouldn’t be any fun if McQueen didn’t find Dooley eventually, and the pair go on to have several more adventures together in a season that sees them traveling to the policeman’s ancestral home in Ireland, a fun fair, and the Shifty Pines nursing home, among other destinations. What might be run-of-the-mill settings in other games end up being whimsically haunted here, possessed by youth-obsessed old folks or, perhaps most oddly, sabotaged by a gang of miscreants who aim to permanently blot out the sun – and have the means to do so.
The overarching plot that runs through all six episodes deals with Dooley’s experiences in the Darkside, teasing you along the way before tying everything together in an unexpected bow. However, the individual stories are so strange and engrossing that they stand up perfectly well all on their own. The Darkside Division is not reinstated despite Dooley’s return, so rather than representing a series of official cases, each episode is simply a bizarre new situation McQueen and his newfound partner run into by chance. Then again, in Twin Lakes that isn’t exactly a difficult feat to accomplish.
Each episode is just as well written as before, providing ample amounts of laughs and more fourth-wall breaks than you can shake a stick at, with quite a few surprising twists and an abundance of delightfully weird characters along the way. Many fan favorites return from the first season, including the Bloodwolf Scouts, fellow Darkside investigator Raxa, and Vince the carnival proprietor. We’re also introduced to a plethora of new characters, including the rather cranky Nanny Dooley, the real/fake psychic Mystic Meg, and a vengeful Nikola Tesla. Collectively they fill McQueen and Dooley’s world out with a variety of eccentric personalities and give the straight-minded detective plenty to bounce off of.
Most of the challenges are inventory-based, with a few others mixed in, such as a Pac-Man-styled hacking minigame in which McQueen needs to safely guide a computer program avatar around moving firewalls, and a puzzle requiring working out wire configurations to make phone calls to the Darkside. A few obstacles aren’t super clear about what exactly needs to be done, and that makes them more difficult. However, as a last resort I succeeded with the good old strategy of “combining everything with everything” as there’s no way to really fail. The locations here feel much larger than the first season’s, with a wider selection of items, but there is still a limit on the number of ways you can experiment. Most of the puzzles are quite clever and some require out-of-the-box thinking, but everything makes perfect sense in the surreal world of Twin Lakes – and if it doesn’t, Dooley and McQueen are always sure to tell you about it.
There’s still no voice acting, much to the glee of the characters who crack quite a few jokes at its expense, but it winds up so funny that it’s not much to mind. However, the chiptune soundtrack and chunky pixel art are of course back, keeping the game firmly rooted on the side of charming rather than just straight-up peculiar. The backgrounds are delightful and the whole game pops with vibrant colors and amusing little touches. From robotic elephants to demonic wrestlers in cage matches and auction houses selling off cursed books, no two scenes are ever the same, and there’s always something odd lurking in the background. Animation is simple, mostly displaying things like McQueen and Dooley walking, though backgrounds always have at least one animated touch to them. For example, the carnival has plenty of blinking lights and a “shoot the duck” game, while gremlins haunt the local junkyard by tearing up machinery.
The mechanics are every bit as simple and easy to grasp as last time. Just click on someone to talk to them, and if possible, bring up dialogue choices for McQueen during the conversation. Hotspots can be clicked on to either pick an object up or to see a quick description of it – usually with a groan-worthy joke made by one of the two protagonists – and inventory items automatically display in the top left-hand side of the screen. To use one, you simply click and drag it to what you’re trying to combine it with, though it will reset in the inventory if it’s not the right choice. Walking speed is quite slow, but McQueen usually makes observations on objects without being next to them so it mostly comes across as him being very reluctant to leave rooms.
Clocking in at about eight hours of playtime, this game is a worthy follow-up to the first season that is sure to please fans who loved the original. Weird characters, wacky shenanigans and whizzbang jokes abound, with the familiar wonderful pixel art style encompassing it all. The puzzles don’t present much challenge except for a few oddly vague ones, but you’ll be having so much fun solving mysteries and laughing along with the protagonists that you probably won’t even notice. Whether you’re returning for a second dose of supernatural comedy or a newcomer just looking for a terrific point-and-click adventure, The Darkside Detective: A Fumble in the Dark is sure to fit the bill.