Video Game Review: A Walk in the Dark
I spoke about A Walk in the Dark back in September of last year. The game was released just before Christmas, but I’m only just now getting round to playing it. It’s the story of a young girl, Arielle, and her faithful cat, Bast. The pair are in the middle of a walk in the forest when something (it’s never made clear what) appears and kidnaps Arielle, leaving Bast to rescue her.
The world of A Walk in the Dark is sketched in black and white, with only the mist-covered forest and spooky mansions in the backgrounds showing any real colour. It gives the game a striking look, one which is undeniably reminiscent of 2011′s Limbo, another 2D platform game which was one of the surprise hits of the year. Where Limbo had a slower, more methodical pace, A Walk in the Dark is much faster-paced, requiring quick wits, quicker reactions, and pixel-perfect jumps. Think Super Meat Boy or VVVVV.
There are three different types of levels throughout the game, two of which have you controlling Bast, and the other one giving you control of Arielle. All of them have you travelling from left to right, but each has a different twist. You’ll spend most of your time controlling Bast, and his most common level is a straight-forward platformer; you’ll jump chasms, avoid spinning cog-wheels and dodge enemies. Everything kills you instantly. Bast’s other levels are speedrun-style — you’re constantly running, with no way of slowing down or stopping. These levels are more about quick thinking and quicker reactions. Occasionally, you’ll also take control of Arielle. Her levels are slower-paced, and instead of being able to jump, you can invert gravity at the press of a button — pulling Arielle towards either the floor or ceiling as needed.
The team at Flying Turtle Software has another thing in common with the creators of Limbo — they obviously love to sup on the tears of frustrated players because A Walk in the Dark is hard, brutally so. There are no checkpoints in the levels — die and you go right back to the start, no matter how close you are to the end. To counter the fact that death comes frequently, respawning is almost instantaneous, meaning you can get right back into the action.
At the start of the game, you’ll see a quick cinematic of Arielle being taken away, but after that, the story pretty much just disappears. There’s no explanation of where Arielle has been taken, or what it is that’s taken her. When you switch control from Bast to Arielle, no reason is given; it just happens. As far as I can see, there’s nothing actually in-game to tell you what the characters’ names are. When Bast or Arielle die in-game, they explode into a cloud of mist or ink, possibly hinting at some kind of ethereal, dreamlike quality to the world around them. Certainly the sparse, monochromatic nature of the world around you helps to reinforce that feeling, but despite claims that the game is story-driven, it’s hard to see where or how that’s the case. Granted, you may not come to a platforming game for an in-depth story, but some more information on what exactly is happening to the protagonists would have been nice.
The game needs a little more polish as well. I managed to break a couple of the speedrun levels accidentally by jumping over the checkpoints at the end, sending Bast running off into space eternally. I also noticed more than once where I missed a jump by a whisker (pun intended), and had Arielle or Bast floating against a platform or ledge for a few seconds before falling to the ground. These are minor things though, nowhere near game-breaking and (presumably) easy enough to fix with a patch.
With a hundred levels, there’s a fair amount of game to be had here. Each level offers optional “badges,” in lieu of achievements. You’re rewarded with one for completing the level under a certain time, and another for collecting all of the optional “shinies” sprinkled across the levels. Doing both will require skill and dedication because the levels get tough quickly. You can play via keyboard, but you’ll want to use a controller. Those pixel perfect jumps will break your keyboard, shortly before they break your spirit, and the timing required for some of the speedruns is almost impossible on a keyboard.
In my previous article about the game, I mentioned the soundtrack, and I’m going to bring it up again. Composed by Cody Cook, it’s haunting, melancholic, and beautiful. It fits the game perfectly. Even on the speedrun levels, it works; it must have been tempting to add in something with a quicker beat and rhythm. It’s restrained and delicate, and just enough to relax you into continuing to play instead of smashing your face against a brick wall as you die repeatedly. You can buy it on iTunes, or listen for free on Bandcamp or Spotify.
The frustration will be the thing that puts you off playing A Walk in the Dark. I mentioned before that it’s brutally hard, and for the most part it is. If you’re after a challenging platform game that won’t hold your hand or offer you easy checkpoints, then A Walk in the Dark is for you. Running through a level for the umpteenth time and finally nailing the perfect series of jumps, crouches, and wall-bounces gives you a feeling that doesn’t happen often in games today. Alternatively, it may just leave you with teeth marks in your controller and tears running down your face.
At a meagre cost of $6.50/£4, I really have no hesitation in recommending A Walk in the Dark. There are a massive amount of levels to play through, and the acquisition of badges on each means there’s a fair amount of replayability. Go get it, just make sure not to play it alone, so someone can restrain you before you do anything you’ll regret.
A copy of this game was kindly provided by Flying Turtle Software, and all images are courtesy of them also.