Review – The Darkest Tales
I’m a huge sucker for anything that puts a dark twist on something traditionally light and or childlike. This is one of the main reasons why The Nightmare Before Christmas is one of my favorite films to this day. Video games are no stranger to this concept, with American McGee finding success with their games Alice and Alice: Madness Returns. Aminita Design even made one of my favorite games from 2021, Happy Game, which follows a boy essentially battling through his nightmares to obtain his beloved ball. So naturally when I heard about The Darkest Tales from Trinity Team, I knew I had to check it out.
In The Darkest Tales you play as Teddy, who is- you guessed it- a teddy bear. After being locked in a toy box for a long time, Teddy is awakened one day by a fairy who resides within a nightlight. She informs Teddy that the young girl to whom he belongs, Alicia, is trapped within her own mind, being preyed upon by a sleep demon who is keeping her locked within her own nightmares. It’s up to Teddy to become Alicia’s knight in shining armor and rescue his beloved Alicia from her torment.
The Darkest Tales is a 2.5D action platformer. The combat feels pretty good, if not wholly original. Teddy starts his journey by obtaining a pair of scissors, which he breaks in half to create two blades for him to dual wield. Along the way Teddy will acquire other weapons to add to his arsenal, such as a bow and arrows, a boomerang, an axe, and a greatsword, just to name a few. Some enemies, like the golems, can only be defeated by using the axe’s charged up move, while underwater foes can only be dispatched using the harpoon. This leads to some fun combat variety within the game, and I had a good time playing with each weapon.
As expected, each weapon has their own strengths and weaknesses, and can be upgraded via the Skill Tree. Level ups occur at a nice pace, and the entire Skill Tree can be filled by the end of the game if you take care to look for additional experience orbs. In addition to leveling up your weapons and health, you can also discover ability orbs. These grant various bonuses and stats buffs, such as gaining extra experience, having a longer dash, or getting stronger when your health is low. A few of these can be applied at one time, and like the weapons, I had fun experimenting with them.
Combat is only one aspect of The Darkest Tales‘ gameplay. As I mentioned earlier, it’s also a 2.5D platformer. Unfortunately, the platforming is nowhere near as fun as the combat. Some of the level designs are just unfair, asking for perfection through some nearly impossible to navigate sections. It’s not just that the some of the levels are cruelly laid out, a lot of the problems stem from Teddy’s controls.
At the start, Teddy will be able to run, jump, and attack with his scissors. Eventually, he’ll unlock other moves, such as a dash, a shield, a grapple hook to swing from, and a double jump. The beginning of The Darkest Tales starts off fairly well, with most of the platforming feeling pretty decent. That is until the stages start getting more elaborate and you unlock the grappling hook and double jump ability. The grappling hook can be frustrating because Teddy doesn’t always manage to release it before he’s out of range of the target, thereby causing him to fall into danger.
However, that’s nothing compared to how absolutely enraging double jumping is. To put it plainly- double jumping hardly works in The Darkest Tales. Double jumping proved to be so unreliable that at first I thought my controller was low on batteries. After changing them out for fresh batteries, I realized that wasn’t the issue. Then after several levels and countless rage inducing moments, I discovered that the double jump doesn’t work when you simply press the button twice. You have to wait until you’re already past the apex of your first jump in order for it work. Even then it’s still often unreliable. This is extremely counter-intuitive and a terrible design choice for any platformer.
As if The Darkest Tales wasn’t frustrating enough, thanks to its clunky platforming, it also has some insane difficulty spikes with some of its bosses. After beating the first few bosses will relatively no incidents, I was shocked by how ridiculously tough the Peter Pan fight was. Every boss up until then had been a fairly simple affair, relying on jumping on ledges to reach them easier, dodging attacks, and striking them when possible. The Peter Pan fight instead became a bullet hell fiasco, with two different enemies to take down and three separate phases. It was a far cry from the ease of the earlier battles. Thankfully, that was without a doubt the hardest boss fight, aside final boss, which is to be expected.
The Darkest Tales’ art style is very striking, with a watercolor aesthetic to make it look like the pages of a storybook. Each level has its own distinct theme, modeled after various fairy tales. These range from the woods in Little Red Riding Hood, atop a giant beanstalk, and even under the sea where a certain mermaid dwells. The fun part about each of these environments was seeing the macabre ways each setting was twisted into a dark version of these beloved children’s classics.
The only level I didn’t care for was one involving being inside a massive creature. Where this could have been the perfect setting for some truly creepy and disgusting imagery, it’s instead almost pitch black throughout the entire level. I understand the logical reason behind this, but when playing a game set in fairy tale worlds, logic flies out the window. It left the level feeling boring and difficult to navigate. Making an artistic decision like this feels like a missed opportunity to showcase some delightfully gruesome imagery. Maybe that’s just my sick and twisted personality speaking, though.
The sound design is really well done. There are strong vocal performances all throughout The Darkest Tales, with Yong Yea providing the gruff voice of Teddy. His curmudgeonly demeanor was a great fit for a bear long since discarded and forgotten. Many of the other characters were hilariously unhinged, with crazed monologues and evil cackles accompanying their performances. The soundtrack was also wonderful, with the tunes being a great blend of whimscal and foreboding.
Despite its shortcomings, The Darkest Tales is still a (mostly) fun time. I adore its concept of a fairy tale world being taken over by an evil entity that perverts it into something horrific. Most of the level designs were incredibly creative and well varied, with the only one I didn’t care for because there was hardly anything to see. The voice acting and musical score were all solid, and helped to create an unhinged world to explore. Unfortunately the platforming (particularly because of the unreliable double jump) holds The Darkest Tales back from being truly great. As it stands now, it’s equally fun and infuriating.
Each level has its own distinct theme, with a beautiful watercolor aesthetic.
A fairly standard action platformer. The combat feels pretty good, but the platforming can be extremely frustrating. The double jump only works about half the time, which is a detriment to any platformer.
Strong vocal performances throughout, with Yong Yea providing the gruff voice for the protagonist, Teddy. The soundtrack is appropriately whimsical and foreboding.
I love the concept of The Darkest Tales, but unfortunately the platforming (particularly because of the unreliable double jump) holds this game back from being truly great. It’s equally fun and infuriating.
Final Verdict: 7.0
The Darkest Tales is available now on PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on PC.
A copy of The Darkest Tales was provided by the publisher.