In The Darkside Detective, there’s much more to reality than meets the eye. Our protagonist, Francis McQueen, is a detective in the town of Twin Lakes. He’s not just an everyday detective, though, as he is one of two men in control of the Darkside Division at the local precinct. As you might guess from the name, their focus is somewhat more supernatural than the rest of the force. For whatever reason Twin Lakes often finds itself entangled in strange, occult mysteries which only McQueen and his sidekick Officer Dooley can resolve. Well, it’s actually more like McQueen solves all the problems and Dooley just tags along for some comedic backup.
The Darkside Detective is a point and click adventure which focuses on our Darkside Division heroes through six distinct cases. Each case focuses on one key problem and takes place in a different part of the city. Although there are a few references to past cases later on, they aren’t really connected in any serious way. As such, the game carries on the storytelling style of a “monster of the week” TV show such as The X-Files. You get to know and enjoy our detective/officer duo but don’t necessarily see their relationship grow across the span of each case file. With that said, cases are locked at the start and only unlock once you complete the preceding one.
If you’ve ever played a point and click game before then you know generally what to expect. Players are free to be totally nosy as they explore each location, clicking on and picking up all kinds of items. Fortunately, unlike point and click titles of yesteryear, every item will have a use at some point. Once used, it’ll magically disappear from your inventory to keep things from getting too cluttered. Puzzles also all generally make sense. Sure, some stretch what would actually work in “real life” but aren’t particularly difficult to suss out. There is no in-game hint option, but listening to what characters say about items typically lends a hint about what to do next. As far as adventure games go, this one falls into a generally easy difficulty category. Even so, given how close Dooley sticks to you, he would have been the perfect vehicle for hint-keeping.
Not everything in The Darkside Detective is a breeze. There’s a bit of backtracking at times which feels a little annoying. Though, to be fair, no level is particularly large which means there’s not too far to backtrack. On the other hand, some may be disappointed by how confined most levels are. It might also annoy some players when items that are obviously needed can’t be picked up before the necessary event is triggered. Cases generally come in at about the same length (aside from the first one which feels more like an introductory chapter than anything else). In total, the game will likely take most players anywhere from three to eight hours to beat depending primarily on how much effort it takes to figure out puzzle solutions.
The writing in The Darkside Detective is cute and often humorous. Although it never quite comes across as laugh out loud funny, there are certainly moments worthy of a chuckle. Despite all the creepy, otherworldly goings on, it’s just another day full of misadventures for McQueen and Dooley. Alongside item-related puzzling, there are also a handful of other puzzles to solve. These often come in the form of puzzles where the player must manipulate tiles to create a route from a start to end point. For example, swapping pipes around to get water flowing through, or connecting cables without overlapping them. Most of these puzzles aren’t particularly challenging and don’t add much value to the overall experience. It would’ve been nice if there were an auto complete option, regardless.
One of the strongest aspects of The Darkside Detective is its visuals. The pixel art doesn’t attempt to mimic any real retro systems and instead offers us lanky, faceless people and ghosts. This style complements the story perfectly and somehow the faceless characters don’t come across as creepy once you get used to them. Each character also remains easy to distinguish thanks to the game’s writing (and each character’s specific outfits/locations). Then there’s the soundtrack by Ben Prunty. You might know him for his work on FTL. The tracks here are all very evocative of a supernatural scenario and sound downright great.
There’s one major disappointment to be had with The Darkside Detective and that’s the fact that it ends before it seems it should. Ignoring the first case which lasts only ten to twenty minutes, it seems we barely get to know the citizens of Twin Lakes before being ushered off into the credits. I personally expected second group of cases to unlock after completing the initial six. With that said, a few additional cases released via DLC – or an eventual sequel which is suggested after the credits – would definitely help alleviate this feeling of being left hanging.
The Darkside Detective is a charming point and click adventure with a taste for the sillier aspects of horror. Expect to see references to 80s and 90s pop culture while solving cases alongside the Darkside Division’s finest. It’s not the sort of game likely to stump players with inane item puzzles and that’s a good thing. Some changes could have been made to further streamline the experience, but it works well enough without them. Hopefully this is not the last we see of McQueen and Dooley.