The Darkside Detective: A Fumble in The Dark Review
When I was a kid of no more than eight years old, my mom recommended that I read Agatha Christie’s “The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding and a Selection of Entrées”. It was a collection of short stories that, while didn’t embody the complexity that her other books presented, still exposed me to a whole new world of the murder mystery genre. The tone may differ, and its protagonist nowhere near comparable to any literary equivalent, but The Darkside Detective: A Fumble in the Dark has ticked all the right boxes for me, as a fan of these novels.
Take for instance the many detectives portrayed across literature, such as Hercules Poirot and Miss Marple in Agatha Christie’s books, or Arthur Conan Doyle’s well-known Sherlock Holmes. The Darkside Detective presents a similar figure at the center of its story–the detective Francis McQueen–but unlike Poirot or Holmes, McQueen is barely competent as an adult, let alone as an investigator. It’s a trait that thus marks the tone of this game.
However, while most of what happens to McQueen ends up wholesome, hilarious, or straight-up bizarre, The Darkside Detective handles the pacing and seriousness of its story masterfully, with the minor cases enthralling enough for players to progress through the bigger mysteries presented in each episode.
A bumbling fool
The story, separated into episodes named “cases”, begins with the detective trying to find his partner and friend, officer Dooley, who is lost in another dimensional plane. Each case presents a similar setup, with some dire situation unfolding that will inevitably involve McQueen, as the player figures out how to progress by solving every problem one at a time. It quickly becomes clear that McQueen serves as comic relief and isn’t the protagonist. Rather, you, the player, are really leading the investigations, a reality that’s backed by the many fourth-wall-breaking interactions.
Every time a significant interaction within a case occurs, you need to re-think your approach to every piece of evidence in your inventory and think about how it can relate to a place or a character you didn’t consider before, which is another point that the game translates really well from the literature it’s inspired by, with new possible interactions and possibilities surging after every small milestone in each case. Like Agatha Christie’s mystery novels, every newly discovered piece of evidence becomes a game changer for the entire case, which unlocks a whole new layer of theories.
You will discover and combine objects in unexpected ways to progress, which have some unorthodox results, such as using stale pizza slices to attract some goblins or stopping a cookie business run by witches. To my dismay, some of them were very frustrating to solve, and I once ended up stuck on a case for two days!
Smarter than it seems
The tale’s comedic tone and the dialogue are clever and snarky. Coupled with the supernatural shenanigans manifesting daily in the world of The Darkside Detective, these often lead to hilarious situations and reactions from the characters in them, among whom are skeptics to the authenticity of these happenings. Yet the jokes fall short at times due to unnecessarily exaggerated scenes, such as a squirrel planning a heist to a television station. Conversely, it is when The Darkside Detective takes itself a bit more seriously and embraces its deeper, darker roots, that the brilliance truly happens.