Adventure games have come a long way since the halcyon days of Monkey Island. While there are still plenty of classic point-and-click titles, normally at the arthouse end of the spectrum, the genre has grown to incorporate more casual forms of puzzling.
These games are aimed at the kinds of players who don’t necessarily enjoy combining everything with everything in an attempt to solve an impossibly cryptic puzzle. Darkarta: A Broken Heart’s Quest falls into this casual category.
Let’s start with the narrative jumping off point. You play as an intrepid orphan woman who receives a letter from a long lost relative inviting her to pay him a visit on a remote island in the fictional Gulf of Kutch.
En route to this island her boat capsizes in a storm, her husband James is badly injured, and their daughter Sophia is abducted by an evil dude riding a giant winged buffalo. She washes up on the island, and this is where you take over.
Darkarta: A Broken Heart’s Quest consists of static screens that you can flip quickly between. For instance, you start on the beach but can move with a click at the top of the screen to an area outside the island’s mansion. From there you can go inside Creek’s mansion (up) or visit the boat shed and jetty (left). You get the idea.
These screens contain items to pick up and add to your inventory, and objects to manipulate or zoom-in on. Your cursor changes when it passes over something of interest — a magnifying glass if you can examine, a cog if you can touch. In the Casual mode, the screen sparkles in areas of interest too.
Meanwhile, a diary and a map lets you quickly navigate from place to place and review your objectives.
Many of the puzzles are classic adventure game fare. It’s not too much of a spoiler to reveal that an early example involves a primate that seems, on examination, to be hungry. On the next screen you find a bunch of bananas. You do the math.
Other puzzles involve finding the components of elaborate locks and ornate jewelled mechanisms, in a manner reminiscent of the hugely successful Room series.
But in between these conventionally gamery puzzles are some more casual challenges. Quite often you’ll zoom-in on an item to be presented with a hidden object puzzle, where the aim is simply to find in a cluttered scene a selection of items listed at the bottom of the screen.
And if you’re struggling with hidden object, you can convert these puzzles into equally simple match-three games.
There are abundant hints, too, plus the option to skip puzzles. Both of these have short cooldowns (or longer ones in the harder modes), but there’s a constantly available in-game walkthrough that you can consult at your leisure. This is a game that aims to challenge, but not frustrate.
Contrasting with the fairly static presentation are the cut-scenes, which whisk you through dramatic moments in the story, and from chapter to chapter, in unsettling first-person.
The chapters all contain roughly the same mix of gameplay styles, but in progressively more melodramatic settings. Darkarta is refreshing in that it draws heavily on Indian culture and mythology, giving it a mood and energy that will be novel to many western gamers.
This extends beyond the characters, too. At one point you need to pacify some bees with frankincense (who knew?). At another you have to dig up some turmeric, along with other exotic ingredients, to make a potion.
But for all its novelty and child-abduction-themed high drama, Darkarta is a very accessible puzzler that presents a pleasant rather than bracing challenge. It has some rough edges in terms of localisation, and the graphics are disappointingly blurry during cut-scenes, but the puzzles themselves are varied and well-designed.
Every type of adventure game fan — from super-casual puzzle enthusiasts to cryptic point-and-click veterans – will find something to like here. You can try out Darkarta for yourself right now.