It’s heartwarming to see games with both style and quality on the indie side of the Xbox tracks. Far from being the homeless bums they used to be, indie games are fast becoming a mine of talent and proficiency, and Dark is a great example from a developer with a talent for making games. This is an entry from developer Andrew Russell for the Dream.Build.Play competition, and as such has garnered a fair degree of interest from the community – at least, more than your standard indie game.
Dark is a puzzler that can be completed in less than half an hour, but is a nice story all the same. It sees you take control of a pointy little chap and try to make your way through the levels. You move, you jump. That’s it. Making use of the environments is really what this is all about, and it does challenge the grey matter nicely. The whole game is played out in almost complete darkness, with lighting and shadow forming much of the aesthetic. It’s lovely. It really is.
But there’s something missing here. Far be it from me to start hacking away at the new roots coming through the gaming soil, but I have a rather important point to make, that Dark exemplifies perfectly. With Dark, you get five levels of beautiful puzzles and an art style that is difficult to find jarring. Hell, you even get perfectly suited music. My problem is that, in essence, Dark is a poor man’s LittleBigPlanet. There is not an ounce of originality here, and while the pretty colours and lovely atmosphere make for an enjoyable twenty minutes, there’s not much else to it.
It’s at this point that I would like to get up on my soapbox and broach a wider issue. If we’re to move away from the kind of minimal increments in originality that we see today in virtually all games, we need to promote games and developers that think outside the box. It is simply not good enough to leave it to chance, and nod in approval as titles like Minecraft, FarmVille and Peggle come along and gain popularity. At best this produces strings of copycats and gives marketers another angle from which to push the mainstream, and at worse it utterly stunts the industry by creating financial powerhouses out of previously indie developers. It’s not even enough that programmes like Dream.Build.Play are around (check out http://www.dreambuildplay.com/Main/Default.aspx for a taste of some of this year’s entries).
We have come back to a point in gaming history that allows indie developers to compete for attention, not least with Microsoft’s excellent XBLIG effort. While I applaud both Dark and its developer for producing a lovely bedtime story of a game, there is a niggling feeling that a degree of originality is missing. If we’re really going to make use of this indie phase (that I can guarantee isn’t a trend that will stick around permanently, or indefinitely), we should be promoting more originality, not just with Dream.Build.Play, but with encouragement and support from the wider gaming community.
While it may not be the best indie title around, Dark is still worth your money, despite the lack of originality in the gameplay. I can’t pick at Dark for not being of sufficient quality, or being a wonderfully enjoyable half hour of gaming, but I just feel that something unique could have made this a really special game, and that seems to be missing from so many titles, indie or otherwise.
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