DARQ: Complete Edition (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Albert Lichi 05.12.2021

Review for DARQ: Complete Edition on Nintendo Switch

Since 2010, [i]Limbo[i/] has proved to be an immense inspiration to indie developers. Puzzle-based, nightmarish dark platformers have become a sub-genre within the indie game community. Everyone can't get enough of them; [i]Little Nightmares[i/], [i]Inside[i/], [i]Ori and the Blind Forest[i/], and [i]New and Tasty[i/], are among the chief examples of this style. Not every one of them are sterling 2D experiences. Once in a while there are repugnant cash-ins like [i]Albert & Otto[i/] or [i]Toby: The Secret Mine[i/]. [i]DARQ: Complete Edition[i/] is the latest effort in the 2D dark puzzler adventure genre. Does it belong in the pantheon of the greats? Or should it be disregarded and forgotten into obscurity?

Playing [i]DARQ[i/] is meant to feel like a nightmare. Just by the way it begins, it becomes clear that there is a very deliberate vision by the designer to make people feel a certain way. There is no introductory cut-scene, no text or voices, and there isn't any music or establishing shots of any kind. Control is given immediately to a very bald and odd-looking protagonist as he slumps around his depressing apartment, with the only action to put him to sleep.

Without any build-up or explanation, this character begins to either dream or astral project, and the game truly begins. While it may be inspired by the likes of the recent trend of dark cinematic platformers, [i]DARQ[i/] is not really much of a platformer at all. The main character can't even jump and he gets around by using dream (or nightmare) logic. Whether he is twisting space or walking on walls, this guy has to use his shaven noggin to progress through the cheekily designed puzzle gauntlets.

Screenshot for DARQ: Complete Edition on Nintendo Switch

Since actions are so limited, there really is not much in terms of mechanics to contend with. No skill-based gameplay or emphasis on reflexes to overcome, which are so common in cinematic platformers. This is more like a 2.5D point-and-click if anything, and it lives and dies by its puzzle design. The dreams or nightmarish scenarios where the main guy is trapped in will have him pulling switches, collecting key-items, and operating esoteric industrial machines to pave a way forward. Once in a while he may also have to sneak by some [i]Silent Hill[i/] monster rejects to reach his goal of waking up from this terrible sleep paralysis.

The story intentionally leaves a lot to the imagination. The playable character is never named due to the complete lack of dialogue or text of any kind. Digging deeper into the developer's marketing, it is revealed that the intrepid astral projector's name is Lloyd. It would never be known unless the player did the homework to find out this detail. There could be more lore surrounding [i]DARQ[i/], but the obtuse and cryptic narrative is constantly shrouded in mystery and obscured information. It begs the question of how much of the mystery is intentional, and how much of it was due to the creator not having a plan and just throwing ideas at the wall to see what sticks.

Screenshot for DARQ: Complete Edition on Nintendo Switch

It might be an easy and lazy excuse to have a setting that is set in dreams or nightmares so that all the meaning and imagery can be whatever is available. Thankfully, the designer does keep the vision consistent, and the art direction is very strong. The obvious Tim Burton-esque style, mixed with the industrial David Lynch black and white grittiness, is a very inspired direction. Wet and dirty metallic pipes shimmer, and rough surfaces catch specular light in an appealing and believable way. Lloyd himself is a sickly looking goth donning a striped shirt that makes him look like a prisoner. Sunken eyes and blank expression sometimes makes him resemble a living corpse, or a cancer patient. His animation and movements have a morose and languid personality, like he is on the verge of giving up on life.

The various locations are densely packed puzzle boxes with twisting and distorting space. Having to find items and storing them in Lloyd's inventory plays naturally enough, but [i]DARQ[i/] does sometimes have a few snarling glitches that can happen at random. Since the atmosphere relies on many shaders and effects to make everything so wonderfully gloomy, and [i]DARQ[i/] was made by a single developer, it shouldn't come to any surprise when there are a few instances of lack of play testing. One extremely troublesome visual bug made a large black splotch follow Lloyd like a depressing rain cloud. The irregularity was too great and intrusive that it made solving puzzles impossible, since it was one big solid haze of darkness that blocked out 85% of the screen.

Screenshot for DARQ: Complete Edition on Nintendo Switch

This sort of bug might be forgivable for a long game with dozens of hours, but [i]DARQ[i/] is barely five hours long. Even as [i]DARQ: Complete Edition[i/] adds of two extra areas, the play time is only extended by an hour to 90 minutes at best. To encounter such a game breaking glitch in such a short amount of time is hard to overlook. The aforementioned bonus levels included in this updated iteration are playable via picking them on a menu. This is disappointing given how the experience is overwhelmingly stylish and creative, that to play the expansion content is a matter of selecting them from a boring screen. This was a missed opportunity to have these new levels incorporated into the main game and to make Lloyd's nightmares feel more like a terrible stream of conscience.

[i]DARQ[i/]'s atmosphere and puzzles are easily the highlight of the entire package. The minimalistic sound design is deliberate, as the lion's share of the background music is usually ambient sounds like dripping water or the shuffling of some distant creature. Lloyd's footsteps echoing on the various surfaces, and the booming and visceral twisting of space and time work wonders for making these lucid dreams immersive and mesmerizing. The puzzles start off relatively easy to understand, but the final stretch of the game will wallop anyone who struggles with spatial awareness.

Screenshot for DARQ: Complete Edition on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

[i]DARQ: Complete Edition[i/] is a very curious and compelling living nightmare. Fans of puzzle adventures games like [i]Myst[i/] or [i]Broken Sword[i/] will find the alluring mystery and quandaries to solve to be very satisfying. The art direction is impressive, and for a title that was developed by an incredibly small team, it is comparable to mid-level developed indie creations. It is simplicity in a very pure form, and that is why it works so well... at least when it doesn't glitch.

Developer

Unfold Games

Publisher

Feardemic

Genre

Action Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

There are no replies to this review yet. Why not be the first?

Comment on this article

You can comment as a guest or join the Cubed3 community below: Sign Up for Free Account Login

Preview PostPreview Post Your Name:
Validate your comment
  Enter the letters in the image to validate your comment.
Submit Post

Subscribe to this topic Subscribe to this topic

If you are a registered member and logged in, you can also subscribe to topics by email.
Sign up today for blogs, games collections, reader reviews and much more
Site Feed
Who's Online?
Steven M

There are 1 members online at the moment.