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[Every week, Gamer Limit scours the underbelly of the internet to bring you the finest releases from the indie scene. Check back each week to see what we recommend. Feel free to check out our full schedule right here!]

“Atmosphere” is one of those intangible qualities that every game strives to achieve, yet few manage to convey successfully.  Sometimes, the problem is just that the game attempts too much.

This is where many of the Xbox Live Indie Games derive their strength – simplicity.  Do one thing, and do it well.

Today, we look at Dark, a pure puzzle platformer with atmosphere in spades.

First of all, Dark is short.  According to the game’s description, it will take you a mere twenty to forty minutes to complete.  But it also only costs a dollar, and, if you saw last week’s Gravity Bone post, you will recall that a game’s length is not indicative of its quality or impact.

Dark starts off simply enough: you are instructed to move with the analog stick and jump with the A button.  That’s as complicated as it gets.

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You aren’t really a character, so much as a parallelogram with eyes.  You can’t die, and there are no enemies.  You just go through the level, exploring this strange, dark, two-dimensional world, until you get to the next one.

This is where the game shines.  The levels are a wonder to explore.  While there are only five, each offers a new experience, sight, or puzzle to solve.  The few light sources bounce off the walls, and your avatar casts a shadow, as does the rest of the landscape.

There are some floating lights to collect, reminiscent of the glowing bugs in Super Metroid.  Pick them up, and the level gets even darker.  You can always see the eyes, though.  And the light will do strange things to your perceptions of the world…

However, the lights aren’t counted, and they don’t affect anything.  You still feel the urge to snatch them all up and horde them, though, maybe because the collecting aspect of games throughout history has been so ingrained into you that ignoring them feels like a blasphemy?  Perhaps.

There are a few other classic game conventions, as well: mine cart rides, elevators, giant cogs that open new paths when they grind together in harmony, and (my favorite) a dragon.  Yes, a dragon that you unlock with the power of light and dark.  It’s great.

Dark screen1

Really, the only problem with the game is that there isn’t more of it.  After about thirty minutes, you’ve seen everything, solved every puzzle, collected every spark of floating light.  Then you’ll traipse through the credits, and the screen will simply read “fin.”  Very subdued.  Very unassuming.

Just like the game.  Yet, it feels so right, like you could never have this experience in any other manner.

Oh, I almost forgot the music.  It’s very subtle, generally, with a single piano providing all of the game’s instrumentation.  It crescendos after a game-changing discovery or the solving of a puzzle, however, and it makes the experience that much more soothing and riveting at the same time.  Wonderful.

There’s no story, but you can’t help but connect with this eyeball’d parallelogram.  He seems so innocent and curious; you feel the need for him to succeed.  You want him to, and you know he can.  You are his guide, his leader, his mentor and his friend.

To what end, though?  To what end?

Score: 9/10

  1. I really like the look of this. I also totally agree with your feeling of connection to the most inanimate of game characters. It’s only human to have a blank canvas of a character and want to fill it in with your own thoughts or ideas, thus making it partly you.

    • avatar Yamileth

      people visiting my store Tangiers in North Adams,MA from the Boston area buoght a boxed set of these yesterday- they were totally delighted- also tried to buy the beautiful crane mobile you made for me(it’s in the shop’s front window as an art installation) but had to settle for the beautiful crane card instead! ;0)

  2. avatar Bkozs

    As the creative force bienhd Nirvana, one need only look at Cobain’s early musical education to help classify the Nirvana sound. In short, Cobain the songwriter although a fan of Pop (Beatles, Sabbath, Zeppelin, Pixies, etc.) was musically educated in Olympia, WA. The Olympia scene that schooled Cobain was deeply immersed in experimentation and the hardcore scene aesthetic that views the Punk movement as a statement while viewing the Hardcore movement as a lifestyle. Therein lies the roots of the Nirvana sound: Cobain’s love of Beatlesque pop melodies, driven by classic rock riffs with a decidedly feminine, yet also punk, edge to them. Independent? Well, of course! Olympia is home to the progressive Evergreen State College and Calvin Johnson’s underground label, K Records. Cobain spent the Bleach years as well as the year leading up to Nevermind’s release, living in Olympia where his social circle and art influences were fiercely independent! Bands like Scratch Acid, Cat Butt, Melvins, Flipper, Bikini Kill, Beat Happening, Thrown Ups, The Fluid, Swallow and many, many others all had a profound affect on what would eventually become the Nirvana trademark style: the quiet/loud dynamics of his songs, the free form jamming and use of feedback in tune, an initial rejection of guitar solos and his incredible voice. People who compare Nirvana to Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Mudhoney (well, Mudhoney maybe) and the rest of the Seattle Sound superstars miss the point entirely. Nirvana has NOTHING in common with those bands. Nirvana are an Olympia band not a Seattle band. Anyone who tells you otherwise doesn’t know a damn thing about Nirvana or Kurt Cobain the artist and, by the way:Signing to a major label was always Kurt’s goal. He was moving too fast to be signed by K records anyway. And Calvin would never have signed Nirvana because they weren’t experimental ENOUGH! Kurt was only conflicted about the major label deal because of his Olympia bred, underground, experimental, non-commercial, do-it-yourself punk rock upbringing. Those were the ethics Olympia instilled in him and, I believe, a major contributer to his frustrations with superstardom.

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