Now that the windfall of new consoles and games has waned, gamers everywhere are looking for a casual no-thought title to kick back with while taking a break from Killzone and waiting for the debugging of Battlefield 4. But in a market flooded with dastardly micro-transactions and strategy wannabes, after dominating Angry Birds for the third time, what is there to play? Fear not, as Darklings is just the thing to help survive the upcoming bloodbath that is holiday family gatherings. Developed by MildMania in conjunction with Balloon 27, Darklings brings an original, imaginative, new concept to mobile gaming.
The story of Darklings is told to the player as Lum’s quest to rid the world of darkness by possessing and purging the darklings that creep steadily towards the player from either side of the screen. However, the more the game is played, the more pronounced the characteristics of these characters become, and the more unsettling this story offered by the game seems.
While the game’s offered story claims that you have been charged with shielding the world, it may be that something considerably more sinister is at work. The shadow-esque darklings float about mindlessly in the dark forests and mountains, chirping a sound oddly similar to that of a small furry mammal. On the other hand, you are here alone, a bright light contrasting with the shadows, purging these creatures by harvesting their souls. Round eyes peer curiously out from behind trees in the background, hardly the menacing figures of darkness described.
It may be in this world that the real stranger, the invader, the enemy is you. Rather than these creatures attacking with malice, they obliviously bump into you on your soul-sucking rampage, hell bent on bringing light to this naturally dark world. The aesthetics of these dark, foggy woods seem to bear the message that the darklings are not the ones unwelcome here; it is you.
Questionable character motives aside, allowing the darklings to touch you or being unable to collect enough big stars before time runs out ends your life. There’s no way to move manually to escape enemies, but each enemy has a pattern over their head that, when drawn on screen, allows the player to take over their body where they stand and purge them. This means a fair amount of strategy can be employed picking the perfect moment to activate power-ups and purge as many darklings as possible in one go.
With each enemy purged, stars will appear that can be collected by dragging them down to your character before they float away. Large stars add time to the ever-looming countdown clock, while small stars generate money to be spent in the store on upgrades, items and outfits.
While this game may give the first impression that it is not a challenge and drawing symbols and collecting stars is going to be a breeze: think again. As enemies encroach from all sides and your drawing becomes more frantic, you’ll quickly realize how easy it is in your haste to draw symbols upside down or backwards when you’re not looking directly at your finger. The further gamers progress in the game, the more pseudo dyslexic you will become to the point where you won’t even be able to figure out how you’re drawing it wrong.
Add in already poor handwriting and resistance is futile. It’s also no help that every time you die, obnoxious hints appear at the bottom of the screen like, “Hint: The boss just killed you, follow the signs!” Sure, the sarcasm is humorous now, but then not so much.
By far the most striking aspect of this game is the dark, smoky visuals that give the title its foreboding feel. Enemies blend into the misty background, their bright white eyes clashing with the dusk, only offset by the luminosity of your character’s aura. The colors make the game’s appearance reminiscent of Limbo, but the cute cartoonish creatures that inhabit this world offset the creep factor and round out this brilliantly designed package.
Hardly the selling point of most mobile games, the music and character effects are no different here, but are still essential. The music is upbeat while giving the notion of the desperation of your efforts, yet the soft chirps of the darklings mentioned previously call into question the morality of the soul-purging quest. Don’t blast it; put it at a level that is subtle but noticeable for a truly enriching experience.
Darklings makes for a fun little venture with a dark and mysterious look, simple controls, and a depth that may have to be examined up close to even be noticed. Perhaps Lum’s quest is a noble one, but it is interesting to interrogate that something else might actually be happening in this little iOS title. Darklings landed on November 27 and is available in the App Store for most iOS devices for $1.29.