Humour in video games can be incredibly hit and miss. My rose-tinted glasses often tell me that Giants: Citizen Kabuto is the funniest game ever made, though I suspect that if I go back to it now, the visage will be ruined as the testicle jokes are dangled in front of my face over and over again. It’s lucky, then, that The Darkside Detective is such an able contender, proving to be one of the most wonderfully irreverent games I’ve ever played.
You play as the titular Darkside detective, Francis McQueen, as he works to solve six different cases that are as varied as they are silly. Despite the looming threat of evil, The Darkside Detective never takes itself too seriously. It’s self-aware to the point where I thought it was going to crawl out of the screen and start cracking wise. That’s the main attraction of The Darkside Detective as, frankly, the gameplay is pretty straightforward to the point where I could play it one-handed while in bed, regular and of the death variety.
The main loop of the game revolves around solving puzzles which range from the obvious to the opaque, though it’s an almost foregone conclusion that you will solve them. Proceedings are restricted to static screens without independent movement; you tap things and McQueen reacts. You can’t amble around freely, which might be a shame for some, but it’s difficult to imagine the game working any other way.
As for the puzzles, they can all eventually be solved by interacting with everything in the environment for items and switches. Blessedly, there are no goats. Although the puzzles themselves might be basic, the route to the solution can often be complex, or a little leftfield. For instance, one case sees McQueen trying to wrangle some gremlins back into an ancient urn. One gremlin has a gun, so McQueen must set the sprinklers off so sat they can later be electrocuted when he uses a shield to deflect the bullets into a power outlet.
Away from the putting-X-in-Y-to-make-Z portions of the game, The Darkest Detective offers some more standard puzzle fare, including everyone’s favourite: connecting pipes to allow a flow of water. There are a few variations, such as matching symbols on enchanted items, but the theme stays similar throughout. If you’re expecting The Darkside Detective to reinvent the wheel, you’ll just end up being disappointed.
What you should expect, however, is that it will constantly have you tittering away to yourself. Whether it’s the absurdly naive Dooley, McQueen’s sidekick, or the almost rapidfire pop culture references, The Darkside Detective keeps the hits coming. It has a killer script, which must have been at least a couple of feet high – you can talk to almost everyone in the world, each person or being far funnier than I could ever hope to be. A small quirk that I loved more than I really should was being able to tap on McQueen and him berating me. The Darkside Detective doesn’t so much break the fourth wall as it does straddle a rocket and cackle maniacally as everything turns to ash.
While my colleague may have previously reviewed the game on PC, I feel like Darkside Detective reaches its full potential on a Switch, as if it’s the platform it was always supposed to launch on. It works fine while docked, but handheld is the way to go, especially as it allows you to get up close and personal with the nostalgia-baiting pixel art style. Touchscreen interactivity is also a small blessing for its Switch port, allowing you to tap on things rather than dealing with the sometimes lethargic cursor. It doesn’t always work perfectly, however; it’s actually more of a hindrance than a help when in dialogue.
As for who The Darkside Detective is for, the goofball nature of it all may turn away players who have been spoiled by high drama found in most AAA games. There really aren’t any stakes, all the story threads are disparate, and it’s not even close to being the main attraction. The humour itself is decidedly British, like an episode of Doctor Who written by Terry Pratchett, so if that doesn’t sound like a good thing to you, you may not fall in love with it as I did.
Above all else, The Darkside Detective’s biggest flaw is one that might also be a good thing (in a weird way): it just isn’t long enough, beatable in just a few hours if you’ve been taking your B vitamins. It would be stupid to suggest that it should be an epic yarn spanning hours upon hours of quips and put-downs, but a couple more hours of gameplay wouldn’t have gone amiss. In fairness, it is billed as a “micro-adventure”, though it leaves a mighty big impression for something so small.
Funny and offbeat, The Darkside Detective is a joyful but basic point and click game that is simply over too soon.