Even though I grew up largely on action-oriented games like Wario World, A Link To The Past, and Pilotwings, there was always something about Final Fantasy that drew me in. As a writer, I like to tell myself that it’s the intricate storylines but that’s just not true. The reality is that I love menus. I’m not ashamed to admit it: if there’s a bunch of different classes, armour materials, crafting gems, weapon types, you name it, I’m there.
When I opened up A Dark Room by Doublespeak on my phone, skeptical because of the crummy-looking screenshots, I was immediately turned off because it was so far from the pixel-art, one-touch controls of so many other games out there. But I forced myself to play it a bit more, trying to get into the menu system a bit. It was about half an hour in that things really opened up and that rush of manipulating menus kicked in.
This is a game that tickles all my customization needs. I’ve played it for a few hours now (total) and I’m still discovering new things. I WAS getting to a point where I was getting bored with all the wood and fur collecting, but that boredom was immediately swept under the rug when the game told me I could now explore the area around me.
Why is that so important? Well, for the first little while, it really isn’t too exciting: first, you collect wood to keep your fire going, then start collecting furs and meat with the traps that you build, all the with the help of your mysterious builder friend. Deal with that mindless collection for an hour and you’ll understand why suddenly being able to explore is such a gift.
I’m not that far in as of now, but I’m still discovering new things and new options keep opening up to me (buying weapons to fight off beasts and strangers was a great surprise). But what’s more engrossing to me than the surprises is the gameplay.
I almost hesitate to call it “gameplay” considering the game is comprised of you basically just pushing rectangle buttons or touching a small text command. There is no action, no moving pieces, no colours even. So, as someone who really looks for inviting graphics and unique environments when picking a game to play, what makes this so good?
The answer is actually in the question itself: it’s the simplicity. The potential for bad voice acting and weird, clippy glitches is completely absent in this game, yet it still manages to draw in the player by giving them a sense of control, even if the narrative can really only move in the direction the developer chose when making the game.
It’s that fear/observation of unfortunate development errors that makes me really weigh my options when picking triple A, Unreal-Engine-type games. Thankfully, with the knowledge that I can get really invested in a game that has basically none of those fancy touches, maybe I can explore some games I hadn’t previously even considered, like the supposed inspiration for A Dark Room: Candy box.