Switch version tested
Review code provided
Darkest Hunters is the latest gem to make its way from PC to Nintendo Switch, with its hybrid blend of strategy, RPG and puzzler gameplay. Brought to us from our friends at Ultimate Games S.A. is this dungeon crawler inspired monster slayer worth your time? Let’s take a look.
The world has fallen to darkness and it’s up to you, The Hunter, to fight your way through dank forests, burning deserts, lava pits and beyond as you encounter a host of dastardly demons to banish back from whence they came! Right from the start, it is clear that Darkest Hunters is a mobile game at heart with the core gameplay implemented relatively well via the Switch touchscreen, though Pro Controller support is due to be added at launch. The five worlds on offer are filled with a selection of stages complete with sub and full boss battles to overcome laid out via a top-down map reminiscent of Super Mario World. Each stage has a star ranking system, six stars can be earned in each with three for boss battles. After a set number of stars have been collected the next world will unlock and you can venture forth once the current worlds final boss has been vanquished.
This does touch on becoming a laborious task in terms of progression over long sessions but thankfully the grind, though it exists, is fairly forgiving as the six stars are designed to be earned through multiple plays on each stage. For example, on a single stage, you may have a star that can be earned by killing three enemies with a bow and one for finishing the level without engaging in combat, requiring two runs.
This set up is welcomed as it allows the player the try out different strategies and not be frustrated with failure at trying to juggle six different objectives in one turn as well as ensuring there is a good chance to earn 100% for players of various skill levels. The objectives naturally increase in difficulty as you progress and may need to be returned to later in some cases if a certain weapon type or spell is required.
Gameplay takes the form of a colour matching mechanic. Matching the same colours will see your character move through each level via the line you have made with the core aim to find the exit. These colours also boost the corresponding stats, casting a spell will drain the magic so ensuring you travel a line of respective blue gems after casting will top up your magic for another use, during heavy encounters you’ll want to retreat through green lines to top up your health, then charge the enemy through red to build up your attack power to deal a mighty blow.
Matching five or more in one move will reward you with a power attack that will clear wider rows of gems in various directions, these can also be used tactically to damage enemies or set traps. During boss encounters the strategy of utilising these pathways and abilities is the key to survival as you manage the smaller enemies attempting to prison shower you at every opportunity as well as the big cheese who will be hot on your tracks.
Levels vary in size and some can be completed quickly if the door is close to your spawn point, but exploration is advised as you’ll be rewarded with hidden areas, chests, gold and the chance to uncover letter’s which fill in the lore and story of the world. There is no limit to how many times you can replay a level if you want to earn more loot but the big rewards come from getting stars, for each two you receive a loot chest with the sixth star granting you a gold chest which is generously stocked with goodies.
Quick thinking and a strategic mind will be required as the game progresses, later levels will have events occurring every few moves to spoil your day, for example, a ranging tornado will mix up all the Gems rendering your current route redundant but may also open up other possibilities.
Character progression takes a turn for the traditional as each enemy killed and objective completed grants you XP, with each new level you are provided attributes to distribute between your three core abilities enabling you to build your character to suit your preferred style though I did find focusing on attack and health with magic use the lesser enhanced worked fine for me. Weapons and armour are in high supply and each type can be levelled up to improve attack and defense using a combination of gold and corresponding loot, some weapons may be weak in attack but can offer a buff of elemental damage suited to set foes and challenges bringing the star system and level exploration into play once again.
If the loot grind becomes too much you can always head the handy market town and visit the merchants who are on hand to sell you spells and wares to aid your journey. You can also visit Charlie Bronson who will keep information regarding enemies you have encountered, read lore notes you may have found and swap between hunters. Despite plenty being on hand, all of which have some back story and unique designs none of them seemed to differ from one another in terms of gameplay which is a shame so I found myself returning to the character I started with and sticking with her for the journey.
All in all, Darkest Hunters is an ambitious title that blends multiple styles of gameplay with overall positive effects. The set up is neatly introduced with a tutorial and most of the mechanics come full circle with each other forming a robust system. Where the game does let itself down is in presentation and story. Don’t get me wrong I wasn’t expecting Lord of the Rings or anything and credit where it’s due for putting in some effort, but the story may as well not exist as it feels so minor and cliché with its execution that the whole thing is just forgettable next to the core gameplay which is addictive and engaging enough.
Presentation wise the in-game itself is clear even with the retro look, some text boxes don’t need to be as old school looking as they are. Nostalgia always plays a part in the look of these titles with the 8 or 16-bit vibes but considering the tech on offer the writing and designs could have looked a lot cleaner especially in the inventory menus to give the title an extra bit of polish and help it truly stand out. Music is basic at best, it would have been nice to have a more varied score as I found myself switching the music off in the menu system as the repetitive whines became irritating during gameplay though did play very clearly through the Switch’s speakers.
Darkest Hunters is a solid game at its core and the ambitious mixture of elements working together should be applauded for delivering a decent challenge yet remaining accessible. It does, however, suffer the age-old grind of the older RPG’s it has clearly drawn inspiration from. Although there is a good amount of gameplay on offer the weapon and armour levelling can take a while to build up making progression feel sluggish in the latter half. The touchscreen controls, although a little over sensitive at times, were absolutely the right choice, I can’t imagine the Pro Controller working as well considering the gameplay but the proof will be in the pudding. With a low price and taking up a mere 195MB on your memory card, this hybrid is rough around the edges but unique and fun where it counts.
TBG Score: 7/10
Platform: Nintendo Switch, Steam.
Release Date: 02/05/2019
No. of Players: 1
Category: Puzzle RPG
Developer: ECC GAMES S.A
Publisher: ULTIMATE GAMES S.A
Download link: eShop