Dark Arcana: The Carnival Review

By Andy Mills, 3 months ago
Polish developer Artifex Mundi have almost single-handedly been keeping the hidden object genre alive on consoles, albeit mainly via ports of games released elsewhere first. Titles like Nightmares from the Deep: The Cursed Heart and Clockwork Tales: Of Glass and Ink have been reasonably well received, particularly with completionists here due to their short run time and simple achievement lists. Their latest offering is Dark Arcana: The Carnival, so let's see how this one shakes out.

Dark Arcana: The Carnival review screenshot


Dark Arcana: The Carnival's gameplay is essentially a mix of point-and-click and hidden object gameplay with puzzle minigames. If you've played any Artifex Mundi game then you pretty much know how to play this one. Artifex Mundi veterans will know each title offers a different minigame within itself that incorporates the hidden object elements. This time round, it's Monaco, a version of solitaire. On the whole, the game is fairly simple even on the game's expert mode (which only removes HUD clues and lowers the amount of hints) but there can be the occasional frustration when stuck looking for the final item on the hidden object sections. Luckily, these can pretty much be brute forced with little reason not to do so. While the game's simplicity may not appeal to some fans of the genre, it ensures that the game is accessible to the largest audience possible, allowing even those that have never touched this style of game to benefit.

The gameplay isn't the only thing that's familiar. The story shares some of the same beats from previous Artifex Mundi games, including supernatural elements and an animal companion who helps the player. This time around, we play as an unnamed female detective looking for Susan Jones, a mother who has gotten rather lost. Obviously, it becomes a bit more complicated than that with the aforementioned supernatural elements coming into play rather early but we won't spoil anything else.

Occasionally, you may get annoyed in situations like this looking for the last item.Occasionally, you may get annoyed in situations like this looking for the last item.


The story only lasts about three to five hours with an extra half hour or so for the extra story unlocked after completing the main one. It's not going to go down as one of gaming's greatest tales, but it's enjoyable enough while playing through it and this short run time ensures that the story stays at a good pace and doesn't overstay its welcome. The main difference from all the other Artifex Mundi games is the setting which, as you probably worked out from the title, is at a carnival. A bit cliche but that doesn't stop Dark Arcana from being enjoyable. In fact, it adds to the game's charm.

On an audio and visual level, the game has its ups and downs. It utilizes hand-drawn art for pretty much everything and a soundtrack that matches the setting rather well. The characters on the other hand are a different story. It's nothing new for Artifex Mundi games but the models themselves definitely appear odd enough to be inadvertently creepy. Throw in some bad lip-syncing and rather iffy voice acting for the most part and players may find interacting with the game's human characters more unsettling than any of Dark Arcana's actual content.

Thankfully, this minigame is a lot easier than it is in real life!Thankfully, this minigame is a lot easier than it is in real life!


Much like previous Artifex Mundi titles, Dark Arcana is a very easy completion and the full 1000 should be achievable within about 6 hours, with perhaps only the few speed related unlocks presenting any trouble. The main story will have to be played through twice to unlock both difficulty achievements as well as the achievements for playing through the hidden object sections as they come in addition to completing them via Monaco instead. That second playthrough will be much shorter however as the player already knows where to go, and most dialogue/cutscenes can be skipped. As a warning, some of the achievements don't come in multiples of fives, so if you want to keep your score "neat", you may want to be sure to get 100% completion, but as mentioned that will not be difficult at all.

Summary

You'll probably have noticed that we've said "like other Artifex Mundi titles" or something similar throughout this review for Dark Arcana: The Carnival, and that's because if you've played even one, you'll probably find a lot of similarities on offer here with only really a change in setting that sets it apart. But if you're doing things well, why change right? While there are issues with character models and voice acting, a short enjoyable story as well as a nice visual style and easy completion means most will enjoy their short time with the game. Those who have played previous Artifex Mundi titles will know if they want this or not depending on their feelings with previous titles, and for those that haven't we recommend picking this one up, especially if or when it goes on sale.
3.5 / 5
Positives
  • Enjoyable, if short, story
  • Simple gameplay makes the game rather accessible
Negatives
  • Occasional frustrations towards the end of hidden objects sections
  • Lackluster voice acting and character models
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent six and a half hours at the carnival, earning all 22 of the game's achievements. An Xbox One download code was provided by the ID@Xbox team for the purpose of this review.
Andy Mills
Written by Andy Mills
Just one of the fine Newshounds on TrueAchievements. An achievement hunter, and a lover of all kinds of games.