Hidden object games have long been a somewhat guilty pleasure of mine. Their generally sedate atmosphere and relaxingly repetitive gameplay make them the perfect distraction to play in breaks between writing and research. There are a seemingly limitless number of them available on the PC, with my Steam account containing more than I’d usually care to admit. That being said, I’ve never really understood who is playing them on consoles. The latest game from genre-leader Artifex Mundi, Dark Arcana: The Carnival makes its way to Playstation 4, bringing its blend of object finding and logic puzzles with it.
Dark Arcana: The Carnival – as is common with Artifex Mundi games – sees you playing as a female investigator, in this case called in to unravel the mysterious disappearance of a young mother at a spooky carnival that probably featured in an episode of Scooby-Doo. The tone of the whole game takes itself a bit too seriously for that comparison to be taken further, unfortunately. The Carnival borrows heavily from the aesthetics and atmosphere of American circus gothic, but the lack of risk or genuine peril for the protagonist ensures that any of the more unsettling aspects are safely removed. The result is a kind of gothic hybrid that owes more to Monster High than horror.
The graphics are functional enough, but it all has that somewhat dated look that typifies the genre. The hidden object scenes are clear and puzzles are visualised without too much distraction. There is little in the way of animation and the cutscenes are predictably chees,y but it would be unfair to overly criticise these aspects given their appropriateness to the genre. Similarly, the voice acting is passable but rarely rises above melodramatic.
The hidden object scenes that make up the bulk of the game are fine but somewhat underwhelming. There are few of the more imaginative disguises found in many titles and the scenes themselves are relatively sparse. This makes Dark Arcana: The Carnival a good entry level title, but will leave more experienced object finders disappointed. Similarly the occasional puzzles mostly involve moving items around to make a particular order or pattern and add little variation or challenge. The end result is a functional hidden object game that does little more than pass the time.
The PlayStation 4 version of Dark Arcana: The Carnival does include the extra story epilogue to the main game. Whilst this provides more of the same gameplay, it offers an interesting alternative view to the storyline and is a welcome addition to the overall package. Replayability is limited, but there is a Hard mode that disables navigation aids. Given the small number of scenes and the necessity of repeating areas with little narrative explanation, such a mode is far more suited to a second playthrough.
Perhaps the strangest aspect of the game, though, is the ability to completely avoid the hidden-object games in favour of a card game alternative. This sees you matching adjacent cards and using the collected powers to clear more cards in order to somehow collect the same objects that are listed for the traditional hidden object mode.
The very existence of this mode confused me, since it seems like removing the key gameplay mechanic of the title, as if Doom contained a mode with no guns; a feeling not helped by the absurdly simplistic nature of the card game itself. Trophy completionists are well served here in that the platinum trophy is easy enough to get, but you will need to play the whole game at least twice through using the alternative object finding modes.
It seems overly simplistic to conclude by saying that Dark Arcana: The Carnival is a hidden object game that will appeal to fans of the genre. There is nothing here to really draw in new players and I remain perplexed at its conversion to consoles. Given the regular releases of Artifex Mundi titles, there must be an audience for them and this title will presumably be well received by these players. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no hidden depth here and its predictable nature left me underwhelmed.
Version tested: PS4