Dark Arcana: The Carnival Review
Xbox One (Review), PC, Android, iOS
I’ve been taken on Slavic adventures, survived Davy Jones’ numerous attacks and have averted mass disaster, all as part of my experiences with Hidden Object point and click games developed by Artifex Mundi, as each one attempts to bring more to the table. This time out, Artifex are porting Dark Arcana: The Carnival, one of their oldest games, to the Xbox One for our detective-like nature to be satisfied. Is the step back in time to a five year old game a step in the right direction?
I’m heading to the funfair to find out!
Taking on the role of a female detective, you arrive at a carnival to discover a woman has vanished while in one of the funfair attractions. You’ll need to figure out who’s to blame and where on earth this woman actually is – realising rather quickly that she’s in another realm. She’s a victim of circumstance, a means to an end for an evil ancient being and human who have made a pact after a tragic incident. It’s typical Artifex really, but not in a bad way, because the story itself is decent with a twist or two to be had.
The funfair setting allows for many wonderful colours to be used in the hand-drawn back-drops, making for some eye-catching designs. But that all goes downhill when things get a little grim; the other realm is naturally darker, however, a lot of the funfair areas are copied to a degree and when you’ve seen the bold and vibrant versions, the rest tend to let it down visually. It’s all still very creepy though, to keep in tone with the subject matter.
What’s initially disappointing is the lack of any detective deductions, for there isn’t a board to piece together any evidence. Instead, that’s done on the spot if any clues are found. Whilst we’re on the topic of missing things, don’t expect to be scouring the scenery for any form of collectibles. These were great in previous games to keep me on my toes and engaged between mini-games, but for some reason there are none here. There is a lovely little monkey though to send out to grab stuff that’s out of reach, so that’s something.
So far, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Surely the mini-games can propel Dark Arcana’s enjoyment levels through the roof of the big top. At first, it absolutely does that, with mini-games involving a grabber machine and storyboards to fix by moving carnival themed items into their correct panels. But then the ones appear where when you move one thing, another thing (or two) moves as well, and they all need lining up in their sweet spot. These frustrate the hell out of me, and there isn’t just one of them either. The mini-game skip option comes in handy, but by the time I’ve pushed to do that, all joy has been sucked out of it.
Hidden Object scenes rarely let me down, asking me to scour the screen for all things weird and wonderful; constantly making me aware of items I’d never even heard of before (what the bloody hell is a Windwill?). And in truth, they stand strong, forcing me to use my noggin to figure out that for the interactive items, if I need some polished shoes, then I need to find the polish, a brush and then apply it to some shoes. My only criticism is that there are a few repeated areas, due to the multiple realms, and the odd item is hiding slightly off-screen. Nothing major though.
I’ve seen pair matching, dominoes and now it’s time for Monaco to try and shine as the alternate option to finding the objects. I don’t know anyone who’d prefer a pretty boring activity of clicking cards nearby each other to make them disappear, over the far more engaging hidden object locating. If you’re one of these people, do let me know you exist!
The main story was over for me in just over the two hour mark, which I have to say is terribly short compared to other games of this genre. You can possibly add another hour to it if you’re not familiar with this type of game, but the only way you’re going to get more play time out of it is to have a bash at the bonus adventure. The bonus chapter follows the aftermath of the main narrative, so I can’t say too much, but it does offer some closure and indeed a little bit of happiness.
Having played a fair few Artifex Mundi point and click games, I think it was a risk to throw one of the oldest games in their back catalogue out into the console market, to follow a bunch of others which offer far more in terms of player engagement, length and exciting mini-games. Dark Arcana: The Carnival has an ideal setting and creepy story, but for everything it does do right, it seems to nullify by having a lack of something, or due to not so great mini-games and repeating of locations.
If you want an Artifex Mundi game, I’d point you in the direction of any other one of the market. They took a risk with Dark Arcana: The Carnival, and it didn’t pay off.
+ Carnival theme
+ Hand-drawn scenes
+ Interesting tale
+ Mini-games involving funfair attractions
+ Most of the Hidden Object areas
- Too short
- Frustrating mini-games
- Repetition of scenes