Video game stories are often tales of good versus evil. The protagonist, whether a space marine, plumber or Pokémon trainer, fights against threatening aliens, turtles or organizations in order to protect the world and maintain peace. This, however, begs the question how a game might play from the other side of the conflict.
Darkestville Castle, developed by Epic LLama and published by Buka Entertainment, entertains this idea by putting the player in control of the "bad guy." As the mischievous demon Cid, the player navigates the town of Darkestville, speaks with townspeople, and manipulates the environment in a traditional point-and-click adventure style. Thanks to its sharply written and endearing protagonist, Darkestville Castle provides a humorous take on the adventure genre. However, sluggish pacing, frustrating puzzles and weak supporting characters hold it back from being a truly great experience.
The story of Darkestville Castle is simple but effective. As a demon born into the world of humans, Cid grows up terrorizing the townspeople of Darkestville. Whether unleashing wolves on unsuspecting visitors or shooting chickens through neighbors’ windows, Cid thrives on laying traps and pulling tricks, much to the chagrin of those around him. One night, when his beloved pet piranha Domingo is accidentally kidnapped during a comical, Three Stooges-like mishap, Cid rushes off to rescue it, setting into a motion a series of wacky events.
While the idea of playing as a villain might imply that Darkestville Castle’s story is dark in nature, its narrative is quite the opposite. Cid is more akin to a mischievous prankster than a conniving villain, and as a result, the game is filled with goofy humor and quick quips from start to finish.
The humor is by far the game’s strongest asset. From the moment I took control of Cid, I knew I’d be in for a wild ride, and was rarely disappointed. Supported by clever writing and excellent voice acting, Cid is a charming protagonist. Whenever he describes something or talks to someone, you’re in for a laugh (or at least a small chuckle).
Although he constantly portrays himself as “evil” (going so far as to linger on the ‘e’ for dramatic effect), Cid still ultimately fits the bill of the “good guy,” showing empathy at some unexpected moments throughout the game. While that might disappoint some looking for a darker, grittier narrative, those interested in a lighthearted story that never takes itself too seriously will enjoy the humor of Darkestville Castle.
I unfortunately cannot give the same praise when it comes to the rest of the game’s cast. While a handful of characters are entertaining - a demon-vegetable fleeing hungry humans and a misunderstood werewolf fighting for lycanthrope rights are two stand-outs - the majority of the NPCs in Darkestville Castle lack the wit and charm of the game’s ghoulish protagonist.
This weakness in the supporting cast is due in large part to inconsistent writing and voice acting. While Cid is brought to life by tightly focused dialogue and passionately delivered lines, his compatriots rarely get the same treatment and are left instead with verbose, tired material and phoned-in performances. From the mayor’s mundane receptionist to a demon who unamusingly mistakes a paper hat for a motorcycle, the characters simply don’t provide enough energy to care about them. Thankfully, Cid’s charisma helps carry the majority of these scenes, and as such, Darkestville Castle remains an entertaining, albeit flawed, story from beginning to end.
A game wouldn’t be a point-and-click adventure without pointing and clicking, and Darkestville Castle provides plenty of both. Over the course of three acts, players explore the various parts of Darkestville, from the town center to the local tavern, gathering information on the whereabouts of Domingo in order to progress. Like many classic point-and-click games, examining the environment for clues and items is key to advance in the story, meet new characters and access new areas. It’s a tried-and-true mechanic that works well in Darkestville Castle, just as it has in the most genre titles of the past twenty years.
Unfortunately, as with the game’s storytelling, the underlying gameplay of Darkestville Castle is inconsistent when it comes to solving puzzles. Some, like using mushroom spores to attract a female fly or figuring out how to win a rigged game of dice against a demonic hustler, reward paying careful attention to hints dropped in the dialogue and various inventory descriptions. Others, like finding a bird feather to rewrite a schedule planner, come completely out of left field, with little to no hints to help guide the way. This leads to dozens of wasted minutes scouring the environment, trying every inventory item with every possible object on the screen to brute force yourself towards a solution.
Even when there are hints present to help with these puzzles, they’re typically buried under lines of superfluous NPC dialogue. The fact that many of these side characters are uninteresting only serves to exacerbate the flow of the gameplay. Retreading past areas and rereading lines of dialogue until the correct solution presents itself lead to a sluggish play sessions. While a certain amount of challenge is to be expected from a point-and-click game, Darkestville Castle pushes this to the point of frustration, hindering what is for the most part a pleasant six to seven hours adventure.
Darkestville Castle is an admirable take on the point-and-click genre. It provides a unique perspective on the idea of morality in games in the form of a compelling protagonist. Cid immediately impresses thanks to some strong writing and voice acting. However, the game is bogged down by inconsistent storytelling, unintuitive puzzles and pacing issues throughout its runtime, making the merits much more difficult to appreciate. The genre veterans undeterred by Darkestville Castle’s rougher edges will find a charming story about demons and trickery worth experiencing. For everyone else, there are easier and more consistent adventure games deserving your time.