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March 2024

The Darkest Tales

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: 101XP
Developer: Trinity Team
Release Date: Oct. 13, 2022


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PC Review - 'The Darkest Tales'

by Cody Medellin on March 14, 2023 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

The Darkest Tales chronicles the gloomy and sinister adventures of a stuffed bear named Teddy on a quest to rescue his owner Alicia from the realm of grisly dreams and distorted fantasies.

There's something appealing about dark fairy tales. Most of the children's classics were sanitized enough that revealing their grim origins is en vogue for older audiences. The Darkest Tales aims to ride the wave of dark fairy tales much the same way that American McGee's Alice did and what Lies of P is attempting to do soon. It executes that part well enough but doesn't quite nail the important aspects of the game.

Players take on the role of Teddy, a stuffed teddy bear locked away in a toy chest for many years. Thanks to a light fairy named Lighty, you've been tasked with saving Alicia, your owner who has grown up but is trapped in slumber due to a bevy of nightmares keeping her in a catatonic state. You're initially reluctant but are eventually goaded into taking on the task, so you transform into a knight to take on a twisted fairy tale world.

As mentioned earlier, The Darkest Tales takes a dark fairy tale approach and accomplishes that part nicely. The opening moments might show something normal, but it quickly devolves as you see Red Riding Hood go feral and devour a wolf while blood is still on her hands and mouth. It maintains that tone from that point onward, with zombie gingerbread people and a large corpse of a giant near a beanstalk. It works as a whole and feels better than the relationship between Lighty and Teddy, who constantly bicker. It doesn't help that the characters are neither likable nor unlikable but simply there so you don't care about them as much as you'd like.

The game is presented as a 2D platformer with some nice flourishes. Early in the journey, Teddy finds a pair of scissors that he turns into dual blades for a basic weapon. That arsenal eventually expands to things like a boomerang, a bow and arrow, and an ax, with the arsenal being drip-fed to Teddy as the adventure continues. Teddy also gains access to some tools like a grappling hook, abilities like a double-jump, and a heal move that you can manually initiate. All of these are governed by a leveling system that sees you spend points on a skill tree to unlock buffs like faster weapon speed or more health pips.

The level design seems clever enough, and while the path is straightforward, there are enough diversions that you can explore to find more enemies to fight or special orbs to grant you even more abilities. The former ends up being the more important part of the game, as you're actively encouraged to kill enemies to use their points for leveling up. With so many branches in the skill tree, you'll want to harm anything and everything in your way if you want to max out all branches.

On paper, The Darkest Tales has everything necessary to become a solid 2D adventure. In practice, the game falters in two areas that serve as the crux of the experience. The combat feels like it was meant for a different title. Until you power up Teddy's stats to the maximum level, his strikes will feel slow and weak. There is a range when it comes to his high and low attacks, but it is short enough that you'd be forgiven for forgetting about it in battle. Your health bar is quite small, and while you are immune for a short while after being hit, you can easily get yourself in a cycle where you'll recover just in time to get hit again. It also doesn't help that your hit box seems larger than the visible character. By contrast, enemies seem to hit faster and take a ton more damage before they expire. Their hit boxes are much more precise, and they rarely get affected by your attacks, often plowing through to give you a good whack unless you deliver a charged blow that might knock them back a bit. It feels like the game requires you to deliver a flurry of moves to stun enemies, and it only gives you breathing room to ask you to disregard this and play in a more methodical manner.

Then there's the platforming. The environments sometimes do too good of a job in looking nice, but they fail at identifying what's a platform and what you can and can't pass through. More often, you'll experiment to see what you can work with. Objects in the foreground only fade away at the last moment, often doing so just when an enemy starts its attacking motion. It can be tough to see an environmental hazard, and the game wastes no time in throwing out situations that require precision platforming. The problem is that your moves don't fit well with this, as double-jumping requires the sort of button timing not seen in other games. The same goes for your grappling hook move, which has a windup in the beginning but a much later throw, which can disrupt the rhythm you'd find in other platformers. It feels off and unnecessary.

To be fair, The Darkest Tales makes some concessions in the player's favor. You have infinite lives, and there are enough checkpoints in the world that repeating entire sections because you died doesn't occur too often. Load times are quick, and all of the progress made in anything except boss fights is kept upon death. If you need to clear an area to progress and you die when the last two enemies remain, you'll come back to the area and only have to fight those two enemies to move forward. Considering some of the unintentional hiccups in the game, these concessions do help.

The overall presentation is quite nice. The music evokes the overall dark tone while also providing hints of adventure. The vocal performances might feel a bit misplaced in terms of the voice type matching the character, but nothing feels completely out of place. Graphically, the art style is eye-catching with a good amount of detail in what can look like a painted storybook style. The animations are nice, while the lighting and reflections are good enough to catch your attention. All of this moves at a good frame rate no matter what resolution you run the game at, but you'll need a keyboard to modify a few options, since moving the sliders and toggles with a controller simply does not work.

It is almost a foregone conclusion now that indie games would run well on the Steam Deck, and The Darkest Tales is no exception. The game hits the correct 1280x800 resolution and can get between 50-60fps on the game's High setting, though that does mean that the game is saving the settings to the cloud and not automatically adjusting them between machines. The battery life here hits between two to three hours with these settings, so there's still some room to get more battery life if you're willing to make some adjustments.

The Darkest Tales is a game that you want to like but can't due to some significant issues. The concept isn't exactly new, but it is interesting to see known fairy tales embrace a much darker side. The 2D perspective makes it feel fresh, since other similar titles tend to go with 3D. The characters are fine, but their intrigue comes from the dark turns taken in service of the game. The platforming and combat feel off, and even though there's some depth in the skill tree, those aforementioned factors will make it difficult for players to press through to the end. If you have the patience or don't mind playing on the easy difficulty level to get through this title, then snap it up if it goes on sale. Otherwise, with the platform already flooded with excellent 2D adventure games, it feels safe to skip this one.

Score: 6.0/10

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