Developer Artifex Mundi has continued to entertain us over the years with its point and click puzzler games, drawing us in with simplistic gameplay mixed with tricky puzzles and the usual supernatural story. Continuing again with the creepy theme is their newest release, Dark Arcana: The Carnival, but does this newest game from the studio tackle some of the problems previous releases had or is it more of the same?
Dark Arcana: The Carnival: PC, Xbox One [Reviewed]
Developer: Artifex Mundi
Publisher: Artifex Mundi
Release Date: 17 March 2016
Price: 7.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Developer/Publisher]
As a parent, I imagine there is nothing worse than losing a child, but what about when it’s the other way around? Dark Arcana begins with such a predicament after a young girl loses her mother at the local carnival. You are a detective who is leading the investigation, and it’s your job to find the little girl’s mother and reunite them. Your investigation will take you through the various areas of the carnival including the hall of mirrors, the big top, a carousel and more, all of which will be familiar to anyone who has ever been to a carnival, circus or fun fair.
If you’ve ever played an Artifex Mundi game, you’ll know what you expect of the gameplay, and if you haven’t, it’s a fairly simplistic kind of game to jump straight into. As you move from location to location, you’ll be met with certain items you can interact with; some will present you with a puzzle, others will offer a hidden objects mini game. If you struggle with either of these along the way, there are hints on offer to give you a bit of a helping hand, but for the most part, this shouldn’t be needed. The game is challenging enough but never too difficult, but it’s nice to know that hints are there should you need them.
The hidden object games look crisper and clearer than in previous Artifex Mundi titles, with detail on objects more apparent, as well as the general improvement on the overall graphics. You’re given an unlimited amount of time to search for these objects, only incurring penalties if you opted to play the game on expert difficulty as opposed to normal.
You could be searching for anything from umbrellas to lions to false teeth, and these may be an actual item or something a little more obscure such as a drawing on the wall. There’s still the odd occasion where an item is specific enough that you aren’t really sure what you’re looking for, and there were even a few words thrown in that I had no clue what they meant. Overall these are only minor problems, but they can stop you in your tracks and have you staring at the screen for minutes on end before you eventually find what you’re looking for.
If hidden object puzzles don’t take you fancy, the game does offer an alternative. In the past, Artifex Mundi gave you the option to play Mahjong, a dominoes style game. This time around you have the choice of playing Monaco, which is a kind of pairing game.
Unfortunately, there is no explanation as to how to actually play this game before hand, so you may be a little confused the first time you start it. Essentially, you must pair off all of the cards until you can eventually get down to the last locked pair, which will finish the game when you pair them together. This makes a nice change from the hidden objects but could have done with a little tutorial to help you along at the beginning.
The point and click nature of Dark Arcana: The Carnival means you’ll be spending most of you time, surprise surprise – pointing and clicking on various objects. Some objects you’ll need to pick up and combine with other objects you’ve already found, others will come in useful later on in the story, and some will require you to backtrack a bit in order to use them. Trying to figure out what goes where and with what is part of the game’s charm, and on expert difficulty is a real challenge, as you don’t even have any indication of what you might need to do next.
Normal difficulty, on the other hand, does give you a nod in the right direction, by circling and highlighting certain areas in the world and on your map. The actual puzzles you have to solve vary from tuning a TV to putting together a puzzle of a snake to resetting a jukebox. Again, the game never proves too much of a challenge, but some of the puzzles will require a little out of the box thinking, and sometimes a little bit of luck, or even the helping hand of your monkey friend.
The carnival setting is perfect for a supernatural based story. Without going too much into it as to spoil what happens later on, your investigation of the missing woman leads you on a mysterious path, where the story covers unnatural worlds, the history of the carnival itself and how not to cope with the loss of a loved one. The bright pinks, purples and other in your face colours of the world fit the creepy carnival, and you’ll recognise some circus themed songs accompanying your journey.
The whole game looks smoother and slicker than any of the past Artifex Mundi titles, so it’s nice to see the developer continuing to improve on things. One thing that is still yet to be perfect are the actual people in the game themselves. Dark Arcana continues the pretty awful facial features and mouth movements, as well as some hard to listen to voice acting. These do let the game down but don’t ruin it by any means.
Like previous games, Dark Arcana is fairly short. Your first complete run through should take you no more than a few hours, and there’s the usual bonus chapter unlocked at the end so you can’t find out what happens after the story ended.
For the price, there’s a decent amount of play time here, but don’t expect to find yourself playing for days. If you want to unlock all of the achievements, then you’ll have to play through the game to near 2 full completions while watching out for a couple of missable achievements along the way.
Dark Arcana: The Carnival is a perfect addition to an already pretty impressive resume by Artifex Mundi. The point and click kings have improved the look of the game, the hidden object puzzles remain fun, if not a little tricky to understand what you’re searching at times, and the Monaco card game is a nice new addition, once you understand how it works.
Sadly, the game is once again let down by bad voice acting, facial features and mouth movements that don’t match real life and some confusion in terms of the puzzling. Take a trip to this creepy carnival, though, for a few hours of fun, and very little disappointment.
Dark Arcana: The Carnival
- Addictive point and click gameplay that is accessible to everyone
- Improved graphics from previous game make for smoother play
- Still has a problem with voice acting and design of people in game
- Some issues with hidden object puzzle descriptions and lack of monaco tutorial