There's something persistently sinister about circuses and carnivals. Attractions which have seen better days, dusky paint peeling off the old set pieces, and tired acts putting up the same old routines for a handful of people who have bothered to show up. It's like time itself stands still when the carnival returns for its annual visit. What would be a better background for the latest Xbox One conversion of Artifex Mundi's casual adventure then?
A young mother goes missing while visiting the carnival with her little boy. A woman detective who remains nameless and faceless during the whole adventure takes the task of finding her. Walking among tents, stalls and merry-go-rounds she discovers a twisted dark version of the carnival. The key element of the ensuing strange events seems to be Jim the knife thrower, who accidentally killed his wife during the show years ago. The missing woman, Susan, is a dead ringer to his deceased wife Alice. Is the man trying to resurrect her with the help of the ruler of the dark world? Or is the Evil One just playing him for a sucker?
Dark Arkana: The Carnival plays out like any typical Artifex Mundi game, mixing hidden object scenes with a more traditional adventure game puzzle solving. Casual is the word here as the puzzle solutions are quite unambiguous and not at all far-reached. Perhaps a bit too much so. As Dark Arkana: The Carnival was originally released five years ago for PC, it's more straightforward than Artifex Mundi's later games. If you need some item, it's usually within a few screens' reach and you can perfectly figure out how to get it.
Having said that, you're going to need a good memory as some items you thought you'd get earlier are only made available much later. Oh, the BB gun! I had almost forgotten about it! The ensuing puzzle at the shooting stall is mighty fun in all its clever simplicity. The game might be casual entertainment, but you still need to pay attention. If you are stuck and no inventory items are of any use, it helps to backtrack and look out for a newly opened hidden object scene. The same spot can be used for several such scenes scattered across the course of the game. I recommend playing on an expert mode and not use any in-game hints as there are some fat achievements waiting to be scored.
Dark Arkana: The Carnival is exciting and interesting enough to hold the attention throughout. It even holds somewhat of a plot twist up its sleeve. I imagine some scenes can be a bit scary for younger audiences. Even I winced when a skeletal mirror guardian stared at me for the first time with his one gigantic, hollow eye socket! Of course you need to find a matching eye as well. Yuck! Too bad the protagonist is left completely intangible; you don't even catch her from a mirror reflection. An extra chapter unlocked after completing the game features a character who was made familiar through several cut scenes in the main campaign. His escapade takes no more than half an hour and happens only within a few screens, but it gives the story a nice closure.
The sights and scenes of the carnival are depicted in the usual colorful Artifex Mundi style. Even though numerous cut scenes are rendered in a low resolution, they liven up the events nonetheless. It should be noted that games like Dark Arkana: The Carnival are always measured up within its sub-genre of casual adventures and not compared to the big league of graphic adventures. As such, the game offers comfy and even suspenseful entertainment, and the few hours put to solve the mystery are well-spent. As is usual with casual adventures, the game also serves as a great stress relief. Dark Arkana: The Carnival might not be up to the standards of the later and more complex Artifex Mundi games, but it still comes recommended for fans of the genre.
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.