I’d be the first to admit that several point-and-click adventures outstay their welcome. Even some of LucasArts best games can feel a little podgy, as they tried to justify – at the time – a full RRP.
The Dark Prophecy is very much the antidote to the problem. It is, all in, about one hour of point-and-clickery, and twenty-minutes if you know what you’re doing. It’s a short story when most graphic adventures are more like novels. In theory, we’re on board with the idea. In theory.
Events start with you lounging by a lake, an unnamed boy, when the holographic face of a wizard bursts to the surface. It would make anyone leap out of their skin, but fair play to the boy, he holds it together. It seems that Prophecy #13 has been triggered, and you have to relay the information to Merlin, who has gone missing and isn’t answering the wizard’s calls. As plots go, it’s not exactly the Rings of Power, but we’ll take it.
The problem is that Merlin is in a castle, and you’re not allowed in said castle on account of being a peasant. So, the first half of the game is spent making amulets so you can chat to scarecrows, concocting potions so you can breathe underwater, and generally accumulating enough items that you can find a way through the castle gates.
The second half is spent within the castle, as various kings and stewards won’t let you just waltz about the castle grounds willy-nilly. You have to gain access to restricted areas, before you can find Merlin and save, well, whatever Prophecy #13 asks you to save. We won’t reveal it, but it’s definitely a rugpull.
A console point-and-click’s first challenge is to find a control system that doesn’t make you want to jam lances into your eye sockets. The Dark Prophecy isn’t all that bad. It’s cursor based, and you can switch the action related to the cursor with a deft press of the B button. You can Look, Talk To, Use and Move/Pick Up. It takes a little getting used to (The Dark Prophecy, being an hour long, doesn’t give you much opportunity to get used to it), as we found ourselves accidentally switching verb when we didn’t want to, but generally we were able to do what we wanted. Using items from the character’s inventory is also somewhat clumsy, but it mostly does a job.
The writing is a touch bleh. There are enough misspellings and curious syntaxes to make you realise that English wasn’t the first language to construct The Dark Prophecy, and it often seems to be reaching for humour that isn’t there. It desperately wants to be Terry Pratchett but, alas, who is?
More importantly, the logic is rather good. An abstract or illogical point-and-click adventure is a special kind of torture, but The Dark Prophecy is self-evident in its puzzles. The only times we got stuck were when we missed a detail that could have been interacted with: a stick in a fire; a sheaf of wheat in a field. Even the included minigame-like puzzles are simple enough, including a flashback to Geography GCSE lessons. There is an argument that The Dark Prophecy is all too simple, particularly with that bitesize play-time, but you’re certainly not going to be reaching for an online walkthrough.
What that hour-long runtime didn’t have room for, though, was the number of bugs. This is, after all, a narrative-based game that runs for the length of an episode of Breaking Bad. It’s not exactly Cyberpunk 2077: there aren’t enough systems for The Dark Prophecy to be riddled with issues.
We’ve been holding back a review of The Dark Prophecy, as a critical bug halted our passage like a grumpy Gandalf. That’s been fixed in a recent update, but there are still too many hiccups. Start a new game and you will often find that your inventory is carried over from a previous save, making the next playthrough impossible (we had to manually delete all associated saves with the game). We got stuck in doors and walls often enough that we got accustomed to the Quit button on the Xbox dashboard.
Plus it’s a bit wonky around its progression triggers. You can’t use a bowl of soup on the King, who clearly wants a bowl of soup, but you can walk past him and let him have a sniff. Only then does he want it. There are a fair few of these oddities, where you know the solution, but knowing The Dark Prophecy’s version of that solution is the challenge.
Even without these rough edges, which some quality assurance might have found, you’d be left with a thin gruel. The Dark Prophecy feels like the demo for a much larger point-and-click adventure. The issue isn’t that it’s short, although we would have taken more: it’s that what’s here is low-stakes and barely gets started. And as soon as you find something approaching enjoyment, you get cracked over the head with some bugs.
Ratalaika Games, who are on something of a quality-burst at the moment, should do, and have done, so much better.
You can buy The Dark Prophecy from the Xbox Store