I’d half-worried that the 79p games had dried up. I’d gotten used to scanning the Xbox Store to see whether one of them had suddenly and inexplicably appeared further down the New Games list on the Xbox Store. Whenever I spotted them, I knew that an hour of my evening was about to be spent on some dubious gameplay and absolutely no achievements at all.
It warmed my cockles to see DARKLAND 3 appear in exactly this way. Of all the 79p games, the DARKLAND series is perhaps the least offensive. I’d even go so far to say that I’ve enjoyed them. They’re brainless platformers devoid of any real challenge, but they could be so much worse. Because most other 79p games are so much worse.
DARKLAND 3 doesn’t change up the formula at all. It’s fifty levels in total, with each of those levels taking no more than thirty seconds to cross. You start on the left of the level and trundle through some simplistic platforming that never strays far from the Mario template. Eventually you end up at the exit, which is locked by a chain. Hopefully you picked up a key on the way through the level to unlock it.
There is a flying enemy and a walking enemy, both of which can be boffed on the head with a bottom-bounce. There are platforms that stay still, others that fall, and some that move. Inexplicably, the moving platforms only appear in the level fifty, which shows impressive restraint on the part of the game designer. DARKLAND 3 also makes free use of Whomp-like blocks that fall from the sky but then sit there; and also a rotating set of four platforms, like a windmill. These are the only pieces in its Mario Maker toolbox, and they are used in various permutations to try to create levels that offer a challenge, and seem at least a little different from each other.
As toolboxes go, it’s pretty light on stuff. There are only so many ways you can use a Whomp, for example. You can ask the player to run underneath them; you can push a player to reverse back before they land; and you can use their tops as platforms. Each of those are given an exhaustive runabout, but they can’t hope to support fifty levels. I found myself wondering if I had played exact level layouts before; in fact, on level three, I believed that I’d accidentally replayed a level, rather than moving on to the next one.
If you can shoo away feelings of repetition, though, the levels at least play well. The main character in DARKLAND has developed a cool new backflip animation for their double-jump, which is nice, and that double-jump works as smoothly as you’d hope. Collision detection on enemies is perfect, and I found myself absolutely leathering it through levels because the controls were just so on point. Even the most precise of jumps isn’t a problem.
The counterpoint is that DARKLAND 3 can’t really generate any difficulty from its ramshackle pile of level pieces. It’s something I’ve complained about with the previous DARKLAND games, and it is at least improved here. In DARKLAND 1 and DARKLAND II, there was absolutely no challenge until the last few levels. Here, the levels introduce enemies at the same time as difficult jumps, and ask you to complete chains of Whomps in a row. And those minor obstacles get added in about halfway through, not in the final gauntlet of levels. It’s something. I’ll take it.
I’m not a fantastic gamer. I’m not about to start my own speed-running Youtube channel. But when I reach level 35 out of 50 before I realised that I had life-hearts, because I hadn’t been hit by a single enemy until that point, well – I’m probably in the presence of a rather easy game. In all honesty, DARKLAND 3 probably didn’t need health at all.
If you can find the switch on the back of your head, and change expectation from ‘difficult platformer’ to ‘relaxing platformer’, then you might find some enjoyment in DARKLAND 3. Because while there are very few differences between the levels, and difficulty only really shows up on a handful of occasions, it’s perfectly possible to find something approximating flow. You can get into a zen-like trance and complete level after level. You don’t have to fire up a brain cell or even restart a level. You can just chew through everything at speed, and there’s a certain enjoyment to be had from that.
Just remember that you’ll get no achievements for doing so. DARKLAND 3 is a no-achievement game, presumably something that Microsoft has determined based on the 79p price tag. Considering you will be done with DARKLAND 3 in forty-five minutes or so, it will be only a minor Gamerscore drought. I lived without achievements, and hopefully you will too.
DARKLAND 3 isn’t a 79p diamond-in-the-rough. I’m not going to reveal that there’s a pocket platforming classic here that costs less than a Wispa Gold. What you do get for your cash, though, is a breezy, easy and repetitive little game which does just enough to keep you playing for all fifty of its levels. If that sounds like it might be worth your time, then fill your boots.
You can buy DARKLAND 3 from the Xbox Store