Dark Arcana: The Carnival
Reviewed by Didi Cardoso
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2013-01-06 Android Adventure/Puzzle T (Teen) G5 Entertainment / Artifex Mundi

Searching for things to play on my phone, I came across the curious plot of Dark Arcana: The Carnival.

Susan and her daughter have some fun at a carnival, but they are separated as they exit the House of Horrors. Just as i started to think the man outside would take the little girl away, the story takes an unexpected turn. Susan disappears without a trace and the little girl is left to the care of a police woman. This is where I come in, a detective searching for clues, attempting to find out what happened to Susan and where in this creepy carnival could she be.

Soon enough, it's clear that the manager has a secret and that evil forces are at work in this place. Images of Susan appear in mirrors, reflections change, and the entire adventure becomes creepier by the minute.

Dark Arcana: The Carnival offers three game modes: Casual, Advanced and Expert. Depending on how familiar you are with adventure and hidden object games, you can begin in a difficulty setting that offers more or less help in terms of progression.

The interface is fairly simple. Your Diary shows your Notes and Objectives, good pieces of information regarding the story and general hints for what to do next. A map (you find it early in the game) gives you an overview of the carnival and its different areas and where some actions are needed. Unfortunately, the map can't be used as a way of moving around and instantly "teleporting" to an area you already visited. With so much backtracking required to solve puzzles, this would have been a welcome feature.

As you investigate, pieces of the plot come together. The manager used to be a famous knife thrower who lost his wife in a tragic accident. He now plans to bring her back to life with the help of an evil entity from this strange alternate reality.

Dark Arcana does some things differently for a hidden object game, and this Mirror World is part of the changes. You can cross over to a twisted version of the carnival, where everything is even more creepy and dark, vines and carnivore plants grow out of nowhere, and where evil clowns, skulls and bats seem to be the focus of the decoration.

You search for items in the Mirror World and bring them back to solve puzzles in the real world. You will revisit the same locations several times, in search of something new that wasn't there before. For items that seem out of reach, you can rely on the help of a friendly little monkey, Miles.

The hidden object sequences themselves aren't limited to just finding things from a list. In some scenes you have to interact with certain objects to acquire the right one from the list. For example, in a particular case I needed a well groomed wig, but the only one in the scene was a disgrace. After searching for a brush or comb to help out, I found one and “dragged” it to the wig to style it and get the item I was looking for. Although, if you don't feel like searching for items in a mess of a scene, you have the option to play a card game instead and skip the object hunt altogether, which is a nice touch.

Fortunately, the game isn't heavy on the object hunting, which is great, since the story is definitely what kept me going. The puzzles and riddles aren't too difficult and can be managed by exploring, observing and using some deductive skills. And if you need, the hint button is there to help, be it by showing you the next hidden object or by pointing you in the direction you need to go.

For added content, the game offers achievements and a bonus chapter that wraps up the story nicely. You are also given the chance to play all the hidden object scenes and mini-games at the end of the game.

A nice added touch was the voice acting, which is definitely a change for this type of game. It was pretty good, and I was glad to hear the little girl sound like a little girl instead of an adult trying to sound like one. Unfortunately, the lip sync was terrible and some of the animations were a bit choppy and blurry. Hats off to the music and sound effects, which definitely set the creepy and mysterious tone throughout the adventure, as well as the art style that renders the two worlds so similar yet so far apart.

Dark Arcana: The Carnival takes the hidden object genre a step forward by adding some new features and a more mature plot that even if falls under the horror category, deep down it is still a love story.