Version Reviewed: 1.0
App Reviewed on: iPad 2
Graphics / Sound Rating:
User Interface Rating:
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When every interesting game idea is copied and cloned in a thousand different iterations across the App Store mere moments after gaining any modicum of mass popularity (2048 anyone? Some Flappy Bird maybe?), it's very easy to get dismissive and jaded. We've seen and played the Jetpack Joyrides, the Robot Unicorn Attacks, the Temple Runs, and any of a hundred other flavors of the endless runner. Does Dark Lands manage to do anything different?
While the core is pretty typical endless runner, Dark Lands has slapped on a layer of visual distinction that, if nothing else, certainly makes it pretty to watch. Co-opting both style and content cues from games like the critically acclaimed Limbo, Dark Lands comes with a bold, moody, silhouetted visual aesthetic. While there may not be ghostly children here, players sprinting and slashing their way through this pseudo-Grecian world will encounter monsters and deathtraps aplenty.
The visuals really are the showpiece here. While the backgrounds contain greys and blues, the foreground elements are rendered purely in stark black and white - with the occasional splash of blood red painting the edge of a spinning saw blade the player failed to avoid. Characters move with a puppet-like jerkiness, which makes the whole affair ever-so-slightly resemble a very elaborate shadow puppet theater. It's subtle, but pretty neat.
The audio is the very definition of a mixed bag. The music is actually pretty good. It alternates between gentle, understated, almost relaxing piano melodies that seem diametrically at odds (yet somehow still fitting) with the violence on screen and darker, more tense and cinematic pieces. On the other hand, the sound effects leave a whole lot to be desired. Their audio levels don't seem to be balanced very well and some of them seem so incongruous to the atmosphere of the game that I'd swear they were just lazily appropriated from some public domain sounds archive. It's a really unfortunate blemish on an otherwise stellar audiovisual presentation.
When initially sampling Dark Lands, I started with Adventure mode rather than Survival, thinking it would be more engaging. What I found was a brutal, unrelenting grind as I struggled to earn enough stars to move to the next section of levels, while still earning enough crystals to upgrade my character's equipment and stats. Eventually, frustrated and unable to even pass a level (much less replay it), I was prepared to write Dark Lands off until I remembered something: Survival mode. What I previously assumed would be a boring "go for distance" slog actually turned out to be quite enjoyable, with a series of Jetpack Joyride-esque rotating challenges that made grinding for equipment much less of a chore. I'm only pulling myself away from the game now in order to get this review finished in a timely manner. Learn from my lesson.
Many games favor flash over substance. And while few would dare to call most endless runners "deep," Dark Lands is about as substantial as the genre gets, while still being flashy. Flashy is a good word for buzzsaw dismemberment, right?