The best adventure games are the ones that manage to get the mix between humor, puzzles, and presentation just right, and it’s been a while since I’ve played one that’s come close to the feeling I had when I broke open a new copy of The Curse of Monkey Island. It’s one of my all-time favorite point and click adventure games that still holds up in just about every department, thanks to the masterful animation work done by LucasArts back in 1997 and of course, Dominic Armato’s debut as the now unmistakable voice of Guybrush Threepwood, mighty pirate.
Epic Llama’s Darkestville Castle reminds me so much of that game that it’s a little scary. My first contact with the game happened during 2018’s edition of BIG Festival where it was running for the special prize as a Latin American made game from Argentina. It really impressed me back then with its fluid cel-like animation and quirky puzzles, and even though I wasn’t able to hear any of the voice acting at the event, the writing proved to be top notch as much as the subtitles were concerned.
Originally released a year before in 2017 for PC, the game’s finally made its way to consoles and the transition to a controller layout hasn’t slowed it down one bit — that is if you crank the sensitivity way up in the options of course! — and its easy going brand of puzzle design makes Darkestville Castle really playable. Inventory selection is made via the bumpers and the little that there is of item combination is a cinch, you just have to scroll to the chest that rests on the corner of the screen and it’s done.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Darkestville Castle tells the tale of Cid, a lone demon who happened to land as a baby in Darkestville, a sleepy village where he made his home as the local prankster. He loves calling himself evil, but all he does is try to annoy everyone in town. One person in particular has had enough of his antics and decides to take matters upon himself, hiring a group of demon hunters to rid the world of Cid’s menace.
The Romero uh… Brothers — should be “Siblings” since there’s a girl among them but who am I to judge them? Maybe that’s just a marketing ploy? — end up mistaking Cid’s pet fish Domingo and trapping it in their magical chest, which leads to a whole bunch of trouble with bigger and way more powerful demons that Cid ends up releasing upon the world. All would be well for him if it weren’t for the fact that these guys ended up taking over his humble abode AND getting Domingo lost somewhere, so it’s ultimately up to Cid to get his home and pet back, saving the world in the process.
Darkestville Castle approaches its puzzles with a mix of logic and humor. The solutions make sense and usually involve using items that you can easily find in the many screens that compose the village and later areas, but the funny bits come in when it’s time to interpret their use. For instance, early on the hotdog stand guy, Pedro, doesn’t want to let go of one of his special sauces that Cid has use for in another area of the game, but he’ll trade for it if someone can get him a peculiar smell for a special blend he’s concocting. Sounds gross, right? You didn’t hear half of it: turns out, a dirty coat that’s hanging in Cid’s castle is just what he needs. I surely wouldn’t eat that, but boy, it sure sounds ridiculous. I admit, it’s a little weird logically to be sure, but it’s miles from the mental gymnastics you had to go through in older adventure games for sure.
In case you happen to get stuck, the dialogue tends to spit out some hints now and then that will get you out of slumps, sometimes even coming in the form of quips that Cid might throw out while examining items or simply by himself. Epic Llama was pretty good about not going overboard on their borrowing of the stylings of the past, but leaving enough to make them instantly recognizable in this.
As soon as I started Darkestville Castle I was already into its looks and sheer personality. The cartoony visuals are brought to life by some really good animation, and it’s where I was most impressed with the game, since it really reminded me of what really enraptured me about Curse of Monkey Island. That, coupled with the excellent voicework in the part of Cid especially, really helped me grow fond of the string bean trickster, finding him way more of a joker and not-too-deep down good kind of guy he ends up proving himself to be in the end. Similarly, the music is also really catchy, sounding like something that would have popped out of LucasArts during their heyday.
Over the last few years we’ve gotten quite a bunch of good and varied adventure games proving that the genre has a lot of steam left in it. They don’t have to be absolutely faithful, feel like natural follow ups or even copies of the classics in order to be considered good per se, but a game like Darkestville Castle revels in the way it serves as both a homage to what came before it and something new that’s both modern enough to be equally enjoyed by newcomers and veterans of adventure gaming. This is definitely a game worth having in your digital library.