Jess
Mar 13, 2017
Publisher: Artifex Mundi
Developer: Artifex Mundi
Review platform: Xbox One
Release date: Mar 17, 2017
With an eerie ambiance straight out of a Ray Bradbury novel, Dark Arcana: the Carnival sets the perfect stage for a spooky puzzle game. Though it never dips truly into the macabre, the scenery and soundtrack provide a ghoulish backdrop to a classic romantic tragedy with a twist. In the shoes of a persistent detective, the player is tasked with finding a mother who disappears from her child’s side at the carnival. As you progress through each unnerving location, it becomes clear that the mother has been abducted to a dark, parallel world accessed via a mirror. Fans of Neil Gaiman’s Mirror Mask will note the similarities.

The game’s narrative develops as you solve a variety of visual puzzles, sometimes requiring you to backtrack and revisit finished scenes only to find new puzzles to undertake. Despite a relative plateau in difficulty, the game remains engaging, and I played from start to finish without feeling bored or overly frustrated. I also appreciated how accessible the game was. The developers offer a map, subtitled and voiced scenes, the option to skip puzzles, and sometimes the choice of alternative types of puzzles. There are also no timed puzzles, and the game is very easily remapped to mobile and touch interfaces. The game does almost entirely rely on visual puzzles, so it would be nice to see some variety there in order to not only offer a more well-rounded experience but also to open the game to blind gamers!

There are flaws scattered throughout the game, but they are few and far between. The most distracting ones were occasional typos, rather poor voice acting, and the fact that the advanced mode was still, relatively speaking, way too easy. Although I applaud the developers for not making the game difficult for the sake of difficulty, a bit of frustration is part of the thrill of a puzzle game. It’s hard to feel accomplishment if the victory is easily won!

Summary

That said, Dark Arcana: The Carnival offers a great experience overall. Perhaps more engaging for a younger audience, but still decent fun for all ages. A bit more creativity in names, voice acting and puzzle types would make this a truly stellar game, though it’s worth a creepy playthrough if only to follow the story and enjoy the sinister scenery. Dark Arcana: The Carnival proves hidden objects games can be deep and engaging.
Our score: 7.5/10

Good - A solid concept with wide appeal, good fun if you can look past the flaws.
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