A walk in the park it is not.

I was originally attracted to A Walk in the Dark by both the visual style and the promise of a unique, engaging, and story-driven platformer. Alas, things changed, and due to toolset limitations and a development budget of approximately zero, the story elements were almost entirely excised from the game. The basic premise is still in place but it unfolds through just a handful of very brief animations, and if you aren’t already aware of the story through the Walk in the Dark website or other external sources, you’ll likely have no clue about what’s going on.

The good news is that it remains gorgeous, and the platforming action is intense, challenging and plentiful. A Walk in the Dark is very visually reminiscent of the indie hit Limbo, with a silhouetted, two-dimensional foreground laid over shifting, murky backdrops. It’s striking and stylish, and while the popularity of Limbo makes comparisons impossible to avoid, the stark beauty of A Walk in the Dark stands out in its own right, buttressed by the outstanding work of composer Cody Cook on the haunting, majestic soundtrack.

But the gameplay’s the thing, and in that regard A Walk in the Dark does not disappoint. The levels in this game are very short – most can be completed in 30 seconds or less – but there are 100 of them, and while they start off gently enough, things begin to get tricky after you’ve made it through the first couple dozen or so. You’ll play as both Bast and Arielle, alternating between the two through different segments of the game. Bast runs, slinks, double-jumps off of walls and generally moves with the quick litheness you’d expect from a cat, and although Arielle isn’t quite so agile, she brings a different ability to the table: Instead of jumping, she can effectively reverse gravity, allowing her to walk along the top or the bottom of levels with equal ease.

Levels for each character are designed to accommodate their specific powers, so segments featuring Bast will have you running and jumping like a maniac while Arielle’s tend to be slower-paced and require a little more thought to traverse. The one thing they do have in common, however, is difficulty. I’m no platforming powerhouse by any measure but even so, I can say with confidence that this game is hard – diabolically so. Each level also has two “badges” for die-hards to collect, one awarded for beating the par time and the other for collecting the magical “shinies” that are scattered throughout, and it takes fleet fingers indeed to achieve them (I gave up even trying around level 20 or so). This is very much the sort of game that leads to thrown and broken controllers – in a good way, if that makes sense.

A Walk in the Dark

While the gameplay is tough, everything else about the game is quite simple, primarily because it’s so stripped down. From the main menu you can choose to begin playing from where you left off—it autosaves after each level is completed—or select any of the previous levels you’ve already beaten, adjust screen resolution and audio volume, modify the four-button control setup or look at the credits. There’s nothing more to it than that.

A Walk in the Dark is bit of a letdown from what it initially promised, but as a bare-bones, thumb-busting platformer, it delivers. If a challenge to your reflexes and dexterity is what you crave and you’re not too particular about the extraneous bits and pieces, it’s definitely worth a look.