Game Reviews

Dark Lands

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Dark Lands

Here you go again, dumped in a dank, dreary land suspiciously full of spiky traps and infested with evil forces, with nothing but steely resolve and a sharp sword to keep you alive.

Dark Lands is a battle-running time, with a typical mix of side-on Canabalt-style leaping about and frantic sword-slashing, all dressed in somewhat still in-vogue silhouette garb.

Two modes are available: Survival and Adventure, the former being an endless fight, and the latter boasting 40 bite-size stretches of almost certain death to negotiate.

From the off, it's pretty clear Dark Lands takes no prisoners. Beyond the first few levels, which are fairly basic tutorials, it's intent on stabbing, slicing, stomping, and bludgeoning the gallant, leaping knight to death as quickly as possible.

Fortunately, he has more tricks up his sleeve than most endless-runner types, in that he can actually stop and block if you prod the screen with two fingers.

This makes for a touch more strategic thinking than many similar games allow. Otherwise, it's all upwards swipes for leaps and double-jumps, downward swipes for slides, and stabbing the screen like a loon to hack angry gargoyles, giant skeletons and other beasties to bits.

Look back in anger

Naturally, the great warrior is so brave he'll only ever move forwards.

Which means if any foes manage to get behind you, they'll merrily stab you in the back, and you can't even turn around and give them a damn good thrashing.

But it's other problems that really scupper Dark Lands. This is a relentlessly frustrating game, joy frequently sucked out of it by controls that don't quite respond quickly enough to deal with the absolute precision required to pick your way through hazards.

Elsewhere, level design varies from mildly clever to infuriating, peppering the landscape with leaps into the unknown. There are genuine moments of excitement, and it's rewarding when you scrape through a particularly gruelling section of giant scythes and spinning wheels of death, but they're too often followed by yet another unforgiving moment - not least when warp gates are introduced, often helpfully propelling you into a pit.

The monsters at least seem to recognise the game's failings, sportingly queuing up to take you on rather than all piling in at once - at least those that prefer melee attacks. Any that are keener on archery are instead quite happy to fling an arrow at you from off-screen.

All enemies telegraph attacks in advance, however, enabling you to block. Occasional bosses are initially a tougher prospect and will almost certainly end your game on your initial battle, but learn their patterns and you'll soon end up victorious.

Star bores

But even if you dig the clockwork nature of the game, and commit every one of its nooks, crannies, blood-soaked saw-blades, and death pits to memory, it'll still slam the door in your face with horrible gating.

Each mini-quest in Adventure mode charges you with three missions, each of which when completed gives you a star. Naturally, they cannot usually be completed simultaneously, and some are ludicrously tough to complete, including many of the speed-runs.

Each new level set requires 20 stars more than the previous one to unlock. Welding a load of kit upgrades to your knight, Infinity Blade-style (via IAP or grinding), doesn't seem to help a great deal either.

Frustration could have been alleviated somewhat by restart points in the vein of Bit.Trip Run!, better level design, less obnoxious gating, or more responsive controls.

As it stands, we got very much an Amiga-era Shadow of the Beast vibe throughout, battling endless hordes in a fairly pretty game that has a lot of potential, but manages to stab itself repeatedly in its armour-clad foot.

Dark Lands

The components for a decent game are present and correct, but many of the good points are hacked to death by poor level design, frustrating gating, and unresponsive controls
Craig Grannell
Craig Grannell
Craig gets all confused with modern games systems with a million buttons, hence preferring the glass-surfaced delights of mobile devices. He spends much of his time swiping and tilting (sometimes actually with a device), and also mulling why no-one’s converted Cannon Fodder to iPad.