Dark Quest

Dark Quest is based on the early 90s cult board game hit HeroQuest.  I’ve never played the game, but after asking around on Twitter, I had a few fans of it confirm that it’s a very close facsimile of the real thing.  If that’s what you’ve been looking for over the last twenty years, this review is irrelevant to you.  Go get it.  This review is for those who missed out on it when it was played using cheap plastic characters, dice, and cardboard.

In the interest of professionalism, I looked up the original rules to the game.  And by that, I mean I watched a four-minute long video by the Angry Video Game Nerd that kind of, sort of explained the rules.  I thought “ugh, looks complicated.  Well, at least I’ll be able to learn how the game plays in the tutorial they no doubt took the time to meticulously craft.”  Which again proves that the whole Cuban women having clairvoyance thing is hogwash.  There is no tutorial for Dark Quest.  You’re thrown into the first dungeon immediately, which offers things that are sort of pointers, but not really.  Fighting enemies, discovering hidden traps, and using various weapons are mechanics the player is left to discover on their own.  I suppose if you’re familiar with HeroQuest, this might not be so bad.  For people like me, it’s clear that we’re unwelcome guests at the Dark Quest party.

Yea, to be perfectly frank, I had no idea what I was doing.

Yea, to be perfectly frank, I had no idea what I was doing.

After somehow stumbling through the first dungeon and picking up a couple secondary characters, I shamefully succumbed to boredom and ignorance in the second level.  Here, you have to find hidden jewels, insert them into statues to activate a door, and then fight roughly five million skeletons, give or take.  The problem here was my previously established “worst random luck in gaming” status was confirmed about ten fold.  I would swing at the skeletons with my barbarian and miss.  Then my dwarf and miss.  Then my wizard and miss.  Or, if I didn’t miss, something would pop up that said “CHEAT DEATH” which I think is basically a fancy way of saying “missed.”  Then, the room full of skeletons would attack.  Funny enough, they would also miss more often than hit, no matter which of the characters they attacked.  But, they had numbers on me, and slowly I would drain away until I was reduced to a pile of bones.  I either was killed by the skeletons or I died of boredom.  Not sure which.

I tried this level a few times.  There is a small instruction card, which noted that the dwarf was the best defender.  So, on my second attempt, when I would enter a room that I knew was filled with baddies, I would lead with him.  Which made sense, since he has the largest movement.  Now, here’s where it gets weird: the dwarf, the guy with the alleged best defense, was the character that the enemies missed the least.  It was un-fucking-canny.  I’m not blaming the developers for me being unlucky, but I would ask them “are you sure this guy has extra points of defense?”  What am I missing here?  Besides 3 out of 4 of my attempts at attacks?  To make matters worse, every once in a while the dungeon master would spit out a random effect, which includes such things as “lose some gold” or “lose your turn.”  What did he hit most often?  “Lose one health.”  Of course that’s what he did.  Meanwhile, I was getting my will to go on sapped by the game’s snail-like pace and unintuitive control scheme.  After giving that second dungeon a fourth go and dying in the same fucking room, I’d had enough.  Yep, I couldn’t even complete the second stage.  Shame on me, I suck as a gamer, yada yada yada.

You know what?  In this case, I don’t think it was just me.  I’ve heard from at least one other player that they were the victim of missing far too often when they went to attack.  Or sometimes a character can be next to an enemy and they can spend multiple turns swinging at each other and missing every time.  Each stage has a time limit in the form of a limited number of turns the player can take.  I never came close to the limit, but the sheer number of turns that a battle can drag out could be problematic in later levels.  Maybe.

Why the fuck do I not automatically pick up whatever gold or items I step over? Why does this game seem to go out of its way to be inconvenient?  Grrrrrrrr!

Why the fuck do I not automatically pick up whatever gold or items I step over? Why does this game seem to go out of its way to be inconvenient? Grrrrrrrr!

I know I’m not who this game was made for, and that’s fine with me.  It looks good.  It sounds good.  I know HeroQuest fans are satisfied with it.  Although they’re a little puzzled by the lack of dice.  However, non-fans will find a slow, newb-hating dungeon crawler in board-game form that is about as exciting a watching paint dry.  On top of that, I also think fans of HeroQuest will find things to be disappointed in it.  There’s no multiplayer.  Granted, eliminating a player controlling the enemies is probably a logical and reasonable thing to hand off to the AI.  But, not having the option for four players to take control of the heroes is kind of silly, especially since board games such as this are built entirely around social interaction.  I guess you could hypothetically just pass the controller off to other players after making your move.  It’s not really convenient, but hey, it’s a chance to play a moderately popular  game twenty years after it dropped off the face of the earth.  I mean, it wasn’t popular enough to last more than a couple of years on store shelves.  And you would think fans of the game would still own the corporeal board and game pieces.  Okay, so I have no fucking clue at all why this game exists, since it takes almost no advantage of things that can only be done in the realm of video games.  H.i.v.e. demonstrated they can at least be used to ease people into learning a new game, but Dark Quest doesn’t even do that.  Nor does it have online support.  This was a weird one to review.  A really well produced homage to some vintage thing that I’d never heard of.  I can’t recommend it to non-fans of the thing it’s based on, but even fans might find little to get excited about.  Don’t get me wrong: there’s an audience for Dark Quest.  Twitter already confirmed that for me.  What I’m saying is, if you want to properly pay tribute to a classic gaming property, here’s a thought: use some of this space-age technology we have these days and make the original concept better.  Otherwise, it’s less a tribute and more like grave robbery.

xboxboxartDark Quest was developed by Brain Seal Entertainment

80 Microsoft Points wouldn’t mind some kind of version of Don’t Break the Ice for Wii U, but only if it involves using the touch screen and an actual mallet in the making of this review.

Spectrangle360

Board games.  I love them.  But as video games?  I’m not so sure.  Some games, like chess, are way over-produced.  Did I really need chess on my PlayStation Vita?  Do I really need two version of Scrabble on my iPhone?  That’s ignoring that most of the best board games use “house rules” that aren’t generally an option when you play them digitally.  No money for Free Parking, no starting in a room in Clue, no increasing the value of V in Scrabble.  But what really irks me is how few video board games there are out there that could only exist as video games.  Mario Party is still around, which I really adored as a kid.  As an adult, I see that it’s a game that doesn’t put a heavy premium in skill.  In fact, outcomes are generally determined by plain old luck to such a degree that it might as well be called Mario Bingo.  However, there are nine console Mario Parties now.  Obviously there is a market for this thing, and not just because it has “Mario” in the title.  Let’s say Nintendo marketed the shit out of a multiplayer game where Mario and his friends performed tax audits on people.  Ain’t nobody buying that game, let alone enough people to spawn more sequels than Friday the 13th.  Nintendo already proved my theory by releasing Wii Party, which sold 7.5 million copies.

Spectrangle isn’t one of those “it has to be a video game” type of deals.  Think of it as a color-coated version of dominoes.  You have a grid of 36 interlocking triangles, some of which have multipliers on them.  Each player draws four tiles, which are visible to each-other.  The first player must place a tile on one of the spaces that does not have a multiplier.  The next player then must build off of the placed tile by matching the colors.  Each tile has a value to it, and scoring is based on the value of the tile multiplied by the amount of other tiles it is touching.  Play continues until there are no more moves open to either player or until someone runs out.

It’s a pretty simple concept, and it is fun.  The guys at IronReaverGames have done a fine job of porting it over to XBLIG.  Even the AI is kind of balanced.  Kind of.  I could slaughter the game on easy, while normal took a little bit of thinking power.  I lost a few games to the computer on hard, although I would like to say that luck factored into that.  Actually, it factored in so much that Brian started laughing hysterically while I quietly stewed and wondered if there was any spot on my Xbox that I could safely stab without killing it or myself.  And then I played the game on its insane difficulty and absolutely demolished it twice in a row.  At first I thought “damn, I’m just fucking awesome!”  But then I went back to the hard difficulty, which was the only setting that beat me, and I lost another two out of three games.  So maybe “insane” in this context meant “the game plays like it is in an abnormal mental state.”  Because although it had to pause to think, it still made DUMB moves.  It’s less “Bobby Fischer playing chess” insane and more “Bobby Fischer doing anything but playing chess” insane.

Despite not being very impressive from a visual standpoint, Spectrangle360 works well.  It even has online play, which I was able to enjoy without any glitches.  I’m not a big fan of the fact that it dumps you out to the menu after every game, but otherwise I have no complaints.  Ultimately though, it has limited appeal.  If you’re not into these types of board games, this won’t sway you.  It’s not unique enough to be something you just HAVE to try, nor does it need to exist as a video game.  Is it fun?  It was for me.  I can’t tell you if it will be fun for you though.  Spectrangle360 is what it is.  If you’ve never played anything like it, it’s at least worth trying.  Otherwise, you already know whether you will like this game or not just by reading how it works.

I added a circle to this picture to highlight something that does bug me a lot about some XBLIGs: that damn font that constantly shows up. I’m pretty sure it’s the default font that comes in the XNA starter kit or something, because it’s in so many games. It’s ugly, it’s often blurry, it’s cheap looking, and it always makes a game seem somehow badder. Always. Spectrangle360 looks just fine without it. With it, it looks ten times worse than it really is. Guys, if you’ve made it this far in the development process, you would be doing yourself a big favor by taking the time to make any on-screen text look better than stock.

Board games will always be ported over to gaming devices.  Spectrangle360 is a port itself.  And these types of games will always have their place.  But maybe if you’re going to port it, you should think about spicing it up a little.  Include modes that contain content that can’t be done with boards and dice and luck of the draw.  Board games are limited by the laws of physics.  Video games are only limited by the amount of cocaine the developer has snorted.  I want games to take advantage of this.  I want to see Monopoly where you don’t just buy Baltic Avenue.  I want to see one where you load up on rifles and take the fucker by force.  I don’t want to eat marbles while playing Hungry Hungry Hippos.  I want to be eating something adorable and fluffy that looks like it feels pain.  I don’t want to just bump a guy off a slide on Sorry!  I want to bayonet them in the back, drag their corpse to my home, and eat it raw.  Hey, why am I telling you guys this?  Yo, Hasbro, get on the ball with this shit.  If you could get away turning Transformers from children’s toy into ultra-violent testosterone flick featuring a pot-brownie eating mother, you can get away with making a version of Operation where no anesthetic is used.

Spectrangle360 was developed by IronReaverGames

80 Microsoft Points noted that the corporeal version of this game costs anywhere between $10 and $50, so obviously this version is the one to get, unless you just really hate money in the making of this review. 

Spectrangle360 is ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.  Click here to see where it landed.

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