Developed almost entirely by a solo developer, DARQ is an unbelievably impressive puzzle game that manages to be equal parts creepy and intelligent. Using perspective to alter the game space, DARQ will have you lost in a Burton-esque nightmare where you’ll have to bend space and defy gravity in order to succeed.
You play as Lloyd, a boy trapped within a lucid dream that seems inescapable. As his dream becomes a nightmare, Lloyd battles with his surroundings one puzzle at a time in an attempt to escape the monstrosities that lurk around.
DARQ is played as a 2D sidescroller, although your perspective will shift during moments of the game that open up new possibilities. In this way the game manages to become more than your simple 2D experience, opening up the possibility for some very clever puzzle design that relies on the shifting of space. Lloyd can walk up walls, forging new paths as he goes. Moments in the game will also allow you to leap onto different realms of 2D space, rotate the space around you or flip your own perspective. It’s a clever way to create more space within a 2D world and overcome some of the limitations of a 2D perspective.
“Pulling a lever and thrusting yourself onto a new 2D plane is met with an audible ‘whoosh’ as Lloyd is launched through space…”
DARQ is certainly not the only game to play with perspective and space in this way, but in my experience it’s the most successful. That’s because, clever puzzle design aside, it’s just so satisfying to witness the shift in properties occurring around you. Pulling a lever and thrusting yourself onto a new 2D plane is met with an audible ‘whoosh’ as Lloyd is launched through space, stumbling to find balance and compensating for his momentum once reaching his new destination. It’s touches like this that make a game like DARQ so impressive and so satisfying to experience.
The visual design is great, with a distinct lack of colour and the creepy-yet-whimsical character design drawing immediate comparisons to Tim Burton. It’s a great visual style for a game that plays with perspective like this, because both elements create a sense of unease and instability. It makes for a suitably atmospheric and creepy experience that the developer is clearly wholeheartedly embracing. I don’t necessarily consider DARQ to be a full horror experience, more just a game relying on creepy thematics, although I’d be lying if I said the game didn’t manage to spook me at moments.
The game’s animations were also suitably impressive for such a small development team. Whether it was skittering up a wall or flipping from one perspective to another, DARQ kept its visual standards high.
“because of the game’s perspective shifting elements, even basic progression and item collection can be its own puzzle”
The game is broken into ‘chapters’ that function as bite-sized levels that can be revisited at any time. The 7 chapters of the game will take Lloyd through different dreams where he’ll have new challenges each time. The gameplay primarily consists of progressing through areas, collecting items as you go, and solving the puzzles around you. Whilst that may sound simple, because of the game’s perspective shifting elements, even basic progression and item collection can be its own puzzle. There is definitely an element of point-and-click adventure gaming here when it comes to finding items and using them where they need to be used. Although DARQ never resorts to the frustrating “moon logic” that plagues this genre.
Some of the game’s puzzles are just pure genius. I never felt like anything was overly challenging to solve, but the solution to a problem was always clever and unique. There’s a mixture of standard puzzling here, although it’s intermingled with the kind of brain-teasers that can only be possible in a game like this. Whether it was chasing a surge of electricity across multiple 2D realms or shifting perspective to move an object from your background into your foreground, I was continually impressed.
At under 2 hours of playtime, DARQ is certainly a shorter experience. As a busy adult with much adulting to do, I’ll never criticise a game solely for its length. However, in this case, I was left wanting more. In many ways that’s to the game’s credit, because it managed to create such a captivating experience for the player. Although I can’t shake the feeling that there was more that could have been explored here, more that could have been dreamt up and implemented. I didn’t quite feel done with DARQ and yet the credits were already rolling. Having said that, I can’t deny the fact that DARQ had no filler content. Every moment was a high, and for that I’m not only impressed but appreciative.
The Bottom Line...
DARQ is a standout game for me this year. It’s a small experience but every moment is oozing with charm and intelligence. The combination of creepy aesthetic with clever puzzle design is incredibly impressive and will stay with me for some time to come. If you don’t mind paying for a short game, do yourself a favour and pick this one up. You’ll find yourself enamoured by DARQ’s style and unique take on the puzzle genre.