Darkarta is an epic hidden object game (HOG) which follows the journey of a mother desperate to find her daughter. As the blurb from the Steam store page says: “Follow the immortal enigma Darkarta who is trying to create the ‘Elixir of Life’ using your daughter to resurrect his lost bride.”
I must confess, I’m not generally a fan of HOGS, but the developers Tuttifrutti Interactive have received a fair amount of recognition for this one, including the Best Quality of Art award at Game Connection America 2017. So, I figured I should dive in…but at the end of the experience, I was left feeling that perhaps this game really wasn’t made for me.
In the beginning, we’re flung back to a scene set centuries ago. A lady called Ameeha casts a spell to save her love, a large and muscly man (Prince Anantha), but she dies in the process.
Skip to the present, or whatever counts as the present in this game. You play as Mary, on a boat with your husband James and your daughter Sophia. You’ve recently received a letter from your grandpa. Up until now, you had thought your grandparents to be dead, so you’ve set off on a quest to India to find them and reunite your family.
Cue disaster and tragedy. A demonic looking chap (the titular Darkarta) appears on a flying buffalo and steals your daughter from you, injuring your husband in the process. We soon find out that Darkarta is immortal,
and he “is the curse of these isles”. He’s kidnapped your daughter because she has the purest soul, and that’s what he needs to create an elixir of life to restore his lost bride. I suspect at this point we’re not supposed to know that Darkarta is Prince Anantha, given that it’s an objective to find out who he is later in the game, but I can’t see what other conclusion you could reach given the opening cut scene and the fact he needs the elixir for his ‘lost bride’.
Anyway, you reach the island where your grandparents live, and it’s time to explore. I was already feeling that the story was fairly ridiculous, and then this happens…
Your grandfather, somewhat randomly, appears as a ghost. He gives you a lead as to where to go next, and off you go again.
The main person constantly standing in your way is a rather angry lady called Lasya, who possibly killed your parents and is being just an all-round pain in the bottom. Mary, via her journal, tells you that Lasya was wearing ‘traditional attire’. I could not help but giggle. For reference, a screenshot of Lasya is provided below.
Through a series of visions, Mary later sees that she may have been involved in this Anantha/Ameeha business from the beginning of the game after all, tricking Ameeha and attacking Anantha. However, that was in her former life as Nagin. That’s why Lasya has the hump with you. Even though it wasn’t you, but you in a former life. So, not you at all, really.
Confused yet? Well, the story gets more convoluted and silly as things progress. I caught myself rolling my eyes at certain points. I think one of the issues is the tone of the game; it seems to take it all very seriously. Unfortunately, if you’re starting off with a flying buffalo, a lighter and more tongue in cheek approach may be more appropriate.
The writing is quite clunky as well, with a few obvious errors (possibly translation hiccups). All in all, the story isn’t this game’s strong point.
The art is generally quite high quality and the static scenes are very detailed, as you might expect in a hidden object game. Many of the patterns and designs are intricate and beautiful. The problem comes in the cutscenes, which are of varying quality.
All of the cutscenes are incredibly cheesy and remind me of the ’90s. Once again, I think the problem is with the tone; they’re quite funny, in a way, but I suspect they’re intended to be serious. The character drawings of Sophia (the daughter) I found to be particularly odd.
The game is also missing a distinctive style, in so much as it looks like many other HOGs out there.
There’s plenty of ambient noise here to set the mood, with crows squawking in the distance and thunder rumbling. The background tracks are generally lilting and atmospheric, which whilst certainly not catchy, are pleasant enough and fit the mood. If you linger a little too long in any one place though, it can get a touch repetitive.
The voice acting is competent but not outstanding. That is, with the exception of whoever was acting as the child, who very obviously sounded like an adult putting on a high pitched voice.
The game was completely silent at times; I genuinely wasn’t sure if this was by design or some kind of glitch.
Gameplay is probably Darkarta’s strongest selling point. There’s quite the variety of mini games and puzzles on offer, including tile sliding, object matching, cog placing, mazes and wire connecting. There are also quite a few inventory based puzzles.
The difficulty feels about right – just about challenging enough for the casual player, which is generally the target audience for a HOG. If you do get stuck, skip and hint options as well as an in-game walkthrough are available.
One particular thing that I enjoyed is that if you’re not a fan of the hidden object games themselves, you can switch to match 3 and solve it that way instead, if you’re so inclined.
There are a number of things to appeal to your inner completionist (if you have one), such as memories and morphing objects that you can collect along the way and view later from the main menu. There are a few other things thrown in, via the ‘extras’ menu; you can replay the minigames, for example, or listen to the soundtrack.
This is quite a long game for a HOG; including the bonus chapter, it took me about a dozen hours to complete (although this did incorporate sandwich making and other distractions). Sadly, I felt like that time really dragged. It may have worked better as a shorter experience with a less convoluted story. I didn’t find the plot compelling; the graphics were good on the static scenes but less so during the cutscenes; and the sound was OK but not outstanding. I did enjoy the puzzles for the most part, although they won’t satisfy hardcore puzzlers.
All in all, I’m sad to say that Darkarta was a distinctly average experience.