Review – Pilots of Darsalon

Earlier on this year, I reviewed a small indie platformer called Ghosts’n DJs. It was a decent, albeit occasionally infuriating, love letter to Capcom’s Ghosts ‘n Goblins series of games. What impressed me the most about it was the fact that the game was developed by a renowned Spanish DJ who goes by the name of Dr. Kucho. The man really liked his first outing as a game developer, as it took less than half a year for him to release this second title on Steam, Pilots of Darsalon. Let’s see if this one also has some redeeming qualities like its predecessor.

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You need to get really close to these fuel stations in order to actually be able to grab more fuel for your ship, or else you’ll just activate your shield like a schmuck.

Pilots of Darsalon follows in Ghosts’n DJs‘ footsteps by also being yet another love letter to what I assume is another NES game Kucho used to love back in his youth. This time around, instead of a Ghosts ‘n Goblins clone, we have something a bit more obscure: a Solar Jetman clone. In case you don’t know, Solar Jetman was a multi-directional shoot-’em-up in which you were tasked with controlling a spaceship and finding pieces of another mythical starship. You would have to use a tow cable in order to drag the pieces back to your base, all while having to endure some wonky physics that added an extra layer of challenge to the mix.

The gameplay in Pilots of Darsalon is basically the same thing. Control a starship through maze-like levels in order to find pieces of cargo you need to deliver back to the beginning of the stage, all while having to pay attention to your fuel and shield gauges, paying attention to the cargo’s integrity, as well as having to destroy enemy ships and turrets along the way. It doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel at all, and I’m pretty sure that was the main intention.

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The graphics are easily Pilots of Darsalon’s highlight.

I honestly feel that, just like with Ghosts ‘n Goblins, Solar Jetman featured annoying controls and physics due to hardware limitations, not intentional design decisions. In Darsalon, however, it seems to be an intentional choice to bring gaming back to its “challenging days”, as Kucho likes to point out on both the game’s Steam page and in the difficulty modifier in the options menu. Just like in Ghosts’n DJs, this is yet another game that tries way too hard to look edgy and anticonformist with its message of “back in my day, things were a lot cooler”. We didn’t complain about wonky controls because we simply didn’t know better!

One thing that impressed me in a negative way was the soundtrack. One would expect that a game developed by a DJ would feature a killer soundtrack. I certainly was hopeful for Kucho to deliver in this aspect, as Ghosts’n DJs had a great collection of tunes all throughout its short duration. That’s not the case in here. Pilots of Darsalon‘s soundtrack can be best described as a small assortment of repetitive and uninspired background noise that will disappear from your memory the second you shut the game down.

There is a silver lining in here, though. The game does feature a striking art style, even though I honestly think Dr. Kucho and his team have succeeded by not actually delivering on what they have initially promised. Pilots of Darsalon was supposed to look like a Commodore 64 game, and even though they did manage to implement a color palette that does resemble what a C64 game would look back in the day, the game looks a lot more impressive and detailed than anything released for that computer. The game ended up looking like a mixture of pre-rendered assets made to look like polygons and some well-crafted pixelated backgrounds, with a retro filter to top things off. It doesn’t actually look like a proper C64, it looks like its own thing.

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Be careful with your cargo. I had to learn the hard way.

In short, Pilots of Darsalon is an occasionally fun love letter to games like Solar Jetman, but there’s not a lot in here besides that same gameplay loop from more than thirty years ago. Just like Dr. Kucho’s previous outing, this is something you will only truly enjoy if you are a big fan of its sources of inspiration, and if you can put up with the game’s somewhat annoying “back in my day” sense of humor.

 

Graphics: 8.0

It was supposed to look like a Commodore 64 game, but it ended up looking more like a unique mesh of simple pseudo-polygons and well-crafted pixelated backgrounds with a retro filter to top things off.

Gameplay: 6.0

The same gameplay from Solar Jetman, with intentionally wonky physics and lots of penalties whenever your ship and its cargo touch a wall.

Sound: 5.5

One would expect that a game developed by a DJ would feature a killer soundtrack. That’s not the case in here, as Pilots of Darsalon‘s soundtrack is half-baked and really repetitive.

Fun Factor: 6.0

It is an occasionally fun love letter to the classic Solar Jetman by Rare, but some physics issues, as well as its “back in my day things were much cooler” sense of humor really annoyed me after a while

Final Verdict: 6.5

Pilots of Darsalon is available now on PC.

Reviewed on PC.

A copy of Pilots of Darsalon was provided by the publisher.