Twin Lakes. 198X. A pixelated small town with its fair share of mysterious incidents. In this town, one fearless detective takes it upon himself to vanquish the horrors of the nether realms that threaten his well-deserved coffee break. By his side: an an in equal parts fear- and clueless
garda police officer who is basically an endearingly stupid flat-earther loves conspiracy theories more than common sense.
(cue spooky synthwave music and titles)
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is pretty much what playing The Darkside Detective is like: A perfect blend of 80’s horror and mystery tropes, pixel art and humorous references. If you’ve seen pretty much any episode of the Irish television classic Father Ted (starring the legendary, late Dermot Morgan as Ted and Ardal O’Hanlon as his intellectually challenged novice Dougal), the often whacky dialogue chains between Detective Francis McQueen and his aptly-named policeman sidekick Dooley are a lot like the ones from Father Ted. Which, you know, might be an intentional nod since the dev team of Spooky Doorway, the studio behind The Darkside Detective just so happens to be Irish.
In the very first episode, we open a portal to
the Upside Down the Darkside, a parallel ghost realm to the real world, in which everybody is just as normal as in the upper world, albeit a tad greener, glowy-er, see-through, and probably (un)dead.
Upon finding the magic item that makes you see ghosts, the ones moving the pieces on the chessboard are revealed to be the ghosts of (then) recently-departed Terry Pratchett and his colleague Douglas Adams. Meanwhile, in the horror section, the spirits of E. A. Poe and H. P. Lovecraft are having a heated debate about which of the two could write more horrifying, blood-curdling stories. You, as Detective McQueen, settle their argument once and for all – by delivering them a copy of Twilight, upon which the two agree that this abomination is the most horrifying thing any of them have ever read.
The puzzles are fun and, for the most part, not too difficult or frustrating (you get to play everything from tic-tac-toe to Space Invaders). They don’t come with an option to skip them, though, so you’ll actually use your braincells if you want to make progress in some areas. The rest is searching for clues and stuff and mashing together stuff you find lying around until you accidentally make something useful (your options are limited, though – this isn’t one of those Big Fish-combine-shovel-with-rubber-duckie-to get musical instrument games).
Gameplay is dialogue-based and follows the classic mechanics of a point & click adventure with RPG and puzzle elements. The game is split up into five episodes, all of which follow a very loosely-connected base storyline, and each parodize different installments of horror: from Stranger Things and Twin Peaks to Friday the 13th and Night of the Living Dead and The Exorcist, we get to visit and explore haunted libraries, a monster lake, cabins in the woods, abandoned Christmas shopping malls and a zombie-infested churchyard.
And lastly, there is the Christmas special, “Buy Hard”. In which Francis McQueen’s
garda police car is ultimately used to replace Santa’s sleigh, and takes off to deliver a load of presents.
THIS. GAME. IS. NICENESS. It’s simple, it’s funny, it’s endearing and gives you all the spooky, cozy vibes you need for a lonely evening. Meanwhile, it is brimming with atmosphere and cool ideas, and at its core, a solid, chill, well-executed adventure game.
Also, it’s on the Switch.
So skip this one, even if you’re not into scares, though. While revolving around horror tropes, the game has no actual horror or frightening imagery in it and is much more funny and at best mildly spooky rather than scary. Its strong suit are the shiny, colourful pixel environments, the ridiculous dialogue trees that nothing and no one in this world takes themselves too seriously. Plus points if you’re a fan of chill, spooky, Vangelis-esque synths. Also, Nigel is cutest lake monster.
The full game can be downloaded at Steam for little money.
The dev team is currently working on the successfully crowd-funded second season 2. The demo is already playable and can be downloaded on their Kickstarter page.
If you’re still not convinced to give it a go already, go ahead and at least watch the trailer for season 2, which is scheduled to release around late summer this year:
You will liiiikeeeee ittttt…
No go on and support the folks at Spooky Doorway by at least downloading their games, folks, while I go play the demo and figure out whether the Citizen of Twin Lake backing prize is still worth
signing my name in the Book of the Devil saving up for.