A recent Game Debate discussion on game difficulty concluded with the searing realisation that video games used to be harder than a concrete codpiece back in the day, and kids now have it easy. Of course, that’s a little harsh on our beloved younger generation: titles like Dark Souls and Super Meat Boy are cruel enough to reduce grizzled marines to piles of blubber and snot, and are responsible for just as many pixellated deaths as Battletoads, Contra and all those other precious games from our childhood. But on average, you young ‘uns don’t know the true meaning of difficult.
That said, the time we spent with A Walk In the Dark - a new side-scrolling platformer from Flying Turtle Software - was a dignity-thrashing series of non-stop fail. Although A Walk In The Dark doesn’t keep tally of your death count, we must have been impaled, buzz-sawed and eaten by hostile porcupines roughly a thousand times in our battle to finish it. So it’s a testament to the game’s genius design that it was never once frustrating (and is surprisingly kiddie-friendly despite the many horrific ways you can be offed).
A merry little stroll
As with many platformers, A Walk In The Dark’s entire plot could probably fit on the back of a postage stamp. A girl and her cat are out walking in the forest at night (as you do), when a scary beastie swoops down and grabs her. You then alternate between controlling the cat and girl, guiding them to safety through all manner of evil obstacles.
That’s all the set-up you get for a hundred quick-fix levels of 2D side-scrolling platforming, and to be fair it’s all the game needs. After all, every single Mario game stuck with the ‘bloody hell, where’s the princess’ storyline, while similar titles such as Limbo and Super Meat Boy didn’t exactly boast Oscar-worthy scripts either.
In terms of style, A Walk In The Dark shares a fair chunk with Limbo, adopting a similar silhouette design and arty production values. However, while Limbo’s ‘levels’ all flowed into one near-seamless whole and its gameplay was puzzle-heavy, A Walk In The Dark consists of reaction-heavy, perfectly precise jumps, split into bite-sized levels that take a few seconds to complete.
Did I say a few seconds? Well, that’s true if you smash them on your first attempt, but A Walk In The Dark’s pinpoint-precise jumps and occasional reaction-heavy moments will see you replaying most levels at least a handful of times. Every level is filled with masses of spikes, with plenty of spinning saw blades, bouncing frogs and unnecessarily malevolent porcupines to make your life even more hellish.
And again and again...
A Walk In The Dark can be quite unforgiving at times, with the absolute accuracy needed to survive its more difficult sections. Sometimes we were certain we’d judged a death leap perfectly, only to scrape a ball hair on the very tip of a spike and vanish in a puff of dust. The controls are incredibly simple - left, right, jump and duck - but at first feel a little ‘floaty’, especially when you’re controlling the girl. However, we soon got used to them and have to admit that almost every one of those thousand deaths were down to our own fat-fingered incompetence rather than A Walk In The Dark being unfair.
In fact, with your unlimited retries and the short nature of the levels, the game is almost never frustrating despite the constant stream of FAIL. In fact, it’s almost therapeutic, thanks to the beautiful shadow-puppet graphics and the soothing instrumental soundtrack. When you die, your character even dissolves into powder instead of screaming hideously as they’re torn to bloody shreds (which means A Walk In The Dark gets the GD thumbs up for kiddie friendliness). Add it all up, and we found ourselves whispering, “right, this time I’ll nail it” after every death, rather than “eat a bag of ***** you ****ing ***** pipes”. And when you finally do nail it, you feel like a hero with balls the size of boulders (discount if female).
I like a challenge
While every level basically involves reaching the end unscathed, there are three very different types of level to add the spice of variety. The standard cat levels have you simply bounding through a series of traps at your own pace, but occasionally you’ll encounter a level where the cat automatically runs to the right, and you have to react perfectly to duck or jump to safety. Then there’s the sections where you control the girl, whose every jump reverses gravity.
Although the game’s hundred levels should only take you three hours or so to complete, the addition of awards/achievements means you’ll have plenty of reason to revisit old levels. The standard levels reward you for collecting all of the glowing orbs and beating the par time, while the automatic scrolling levels give you a prize for completing them first time. Unfortunately we noticed some bugs with the time awards, where beating the par time didn’t give us the achievement or vice versa.
A Walk In The Dark is a solid bite-sized platformer that addicts players with its ‘one more try’ gameplay. The soundtrack and visuals are excellent, and although it’s over far too quickly, the achievements will keep you coming back for more punishment.