Review: The Darkside Detective

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Meta-humor is a tough thing to get right in any medium, and in video games it can very easily fall flat. Characters that are too aware of their setting or harp too much on tropes often become part of the tropes they’re lampooning. The Darkside Detective has no such troubles, using its meta-humor as just a small part of it’s hilarious writing. Coupled with some solid point-and-click adventuring, charmingly chunky graphics, and surprisingly in-depth world building, this makes for one of the most pleasant games to features ghosts and occult beasts in ages.

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Detective Francis McQueen heads up the Darkside Division, a department of the Twin Lakes Police focused on handling paranormal threats. It’s not a particularly glamorous job, confiscating forbidden texts and sealing portals to the great beyond, but it’s a living. Paired with his dim-witted but lovable partner Dooley, McQueen will face all manner of unnatural occurrences both on police business and just going about his daily routine. Twin Lakes is a city with plenty of secrets, after all, and with every case McQueen closes, he gets closer to understanding the nature of the supernatural and its source, the otherworldly Darkside.

Most games that want to riff on paranormal antics would probably stick to established notions of ghosts and monsters, but not The Darkside Detective. Most of the evil that you’ll face is sourced from the Darkside, a sort of mirror dimension populated by spirit images of the living and far nastier things. There’s still plenty of Scooby-Doo-esque investigating to do, as disgruntled or careless folk around town tend to run afoul of the Darkside, but there’s plenty of lore spent on explaining what this other world is and how it works. I won’t spoil any of it but it’s equal parts goofy and creepy, a perfect fit for this lighthearted romp.

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The puzzling itself is very streamlined pointing and clicking. In every scene McQueen and Dooley stand at the ready for you to examine objects, pick up objects, and question other characters objectively. There are no big dialog trees or complex puzzles here, just working out how to check alibis and making sure you find the keys and matches and blacklight markers needed to progress. I very much prefer adventure games where I don’t get stuck for long, and while the later chapters have more elaborate and sometimes hard to follow puzzles, it was a fine progression from tutorial-level problems to that. You also get some very helpfully pointed dialog from characters when you’re in the middle of a puzzle you really should have solved already.

You’ll have six main cases to solve, each taking about 15 to 20 minutes or so to complete. The highly-motivated developers have also added three bonus cases, which should extend the gameplay significantly. Honestly I’m struggling to come up with any complaints about this one, as it seems to thread a lot of needles other adventure games get stuck on. The puzzles are simple and fun, the game looks and sounds great, and the writing is top-notch for video game comedy. There have been more than a few lines that elicited hearty chuckles from me, and even the jokes that don’t quite land have clearly been worked up by folks who clearly love the material and want you to love McQueen and Dooley as much as they do. And that should be very, very easy because they’re in almost every scene together and you can chat with Dooley about what’s going on nearly every time you see him.

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The Darkside Detective is the kind of game that’s perfect to brighten your spirits for quick bursts at a time. You’ll want to take your time with this one, savor the sights, and explore all your options to help turn up some of the more obscure achievements. At its core it’s just really fun, charming in all the right ways and never trying too hard to be funny, meaningful, or anything else. It’s definitely one of the most pleasant point-and-clicks I’ve played in a long while, so if you’re a fan of the lighter side of police work and paranormal sightings, you’ll want to start exploring the Darkside immediately.

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