Remember the simplicity of the old Nintendo or even the creative gameplay of some Super Nintendo and Genesis games? Remember jumping over traps and shooting monsters? Wasn't that fun? But if only they had the capability back then to have really stunning graphics, backrounds and sound, then they would truly be something. Well, to thirst no more. We now can bask in the glory of Heart of Darkness, a new truly 2-D (no rotating screens) platformer from Interplay.
The story is right out of a children's book or movie. The hero, a little boy named Andy who is afraid of the dark, loses his dog Whiskey in a solar eclipse. So Andy does what any 10 year old would do, he hops on his rocket that he created out of scrap metal and spare parts and travels to another dimension to find his pup. There he meets a race of cute, plump, pink creatures that fly and helps them out in return for their advice. As it turns out his dog was kidnapped by the Master of Darkness, an evil creature who rules over the shadows, and he must journey into the dark land to rescue him.
The very first thing that you will notice about the game is the cinema sequences since they are long and gorgeous. It is one of those games that has enough cartoon footage to take up two CDs. It is the cinema that tell the story and this movie is good enough to be a kids video. However the beauty is that it is not just a kids movie but a fun game and the cinema feeds right into that. There were a couple of times that I was not sure whether there was going to be more footage or I was supposed to play. The graphics are that good.
Another thing that kept my attention throughout the playing of the game was the variety of different platform elements that it possessed. Most games of this kind have one trick like flying or magic that they use to spice up gameplay, but usually it becomes repetitive. You find yourself making the same kinds of jumps and repeating the same objectives with no variety. In Heart of Darkness there are many different elements thrown into the picture that correspond to the vastly different levels and locations that it contains. Andy does everything from swimming in the swamp to climbing on a mountain to hanging over lava. And then just for fun the creators will throw in something that you'll only see once. Very few of the puzzles are repeated throughout the game. Each new level is truly a new experience.
The enemies on the other hand are not as diverse as the elements where they exist. Since the game is about shadows most all of the enemies look like formless black blobs of oil that mix together and grab at Andy kinda like the bad spirits in the movie Ghost, but with eyes and teeth. It is really hard to see how many of them there are at any given time and they posses hardly any detail at all. There are not any bosses at the end of levels until the end and if there is one element that does get repetitive and annoying it is shooting these little varmints.
In this other dimension Andy finds that he has a magical power, he can shoot green balls of energy out of his hands that kills shadows and makes seeds grow into trees which he then climbs. Other than this Andy does not have any weapons (except for his ghostbuster-like gun that he loses in the first level) so if you are looking for a game with options and power-ups this is not it. Along with no weapon choices there is no life meter, no time limit, unlimited lives, no inventory, and no mercy when it comes to killing the hero off. I have not died so many times so quickly since Oddworld. However each death comes with a nice animation of Andy's final seconds, sometimes with a video shot a la Dragon's Lair.
It is nice to see that 2-D is making a comeback with such beauty and style. A great deal of work went into making this game (I hear over 2 years worth) and it really shows. Every background, foreground, and screen are completely different. Each new task is fun and challenging and all the while the sound effects are dead on. If the new 3-D games just make moving and seeing more difficult for you and you wish you could go back to the simplicity of Donkey Kong Country or any of the Disney side scrollers then go pick up Heart of Darkness. You'll never look at mysterious shadows the same way again.
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