It’s 2021, and at this point, the 16-bit retro aesthetic has almost been done to death. Take a scroll through the eShop and you’ll see just how many titles are jostling to boost your serotonin with a shot of late 80s to early 90s nostalgia. Its obvious similarities to the titan that is Super Mario World aside, More Dark is actually a surprising addition to this well-worn and battle-hardened genre, resulting in a title that is clearly more than the sum of its parts.
You play as a lowly hellspawn minion, a dispensable grunt tasked with clearing up the Other World after prisoners escape damnation and start running amok. The big man of the underworld has taken a vacation and it’s his lewdly rendered daughter who’s been left in charge. She wants the whole incident squared away before he comes back and Satan help you if you don’t oblige.
Initially, the game sticks to the tried and tested mechanics of its forefathers, with simplistic controls. The goal is to clear every room, unlocking the steel gates to progress onto the next. To do this, you must dispatch the enemies in each room, and it’s this mechanic that sets it apart from its aforementioned Mario counterpart. More Dark is much more of a puzzle-platformer than a platform-adventure. You’re given the tools to traverse each room but it is left to you to work out how. You start out with a jump capability of just one block, meaning you’ll need to strategically move crates and consider every step to reach your goal. Bouncing on the head of enemies provides extra height to your jumps, often providing you with the only means to reach the exit.
It’s not all over if you mess up, however, and you will…frequently. Pressing X causes the minion to self destruct, promptly resetting the room and allowing you to try again with another hapless pawn of the underworld. Even once you’ve worked out the kinks, knowing what you need to do to clear a room is often only half the battle. Floor spikes, crumbling platforms, and misdirection are employed to hamper your progress, forcing you to reset for another run.
As you progress in More Dark, you unlock new abilities that allow you to blow up fragile blocks, jump higher, and more. Although this allows you to better recover from mistakes and clear rooms more easily, this also enables the game to throw harder and harder challenges your way, forcing you to make use of your newfound abilities in ever more complex ways. This Metroidvania-style upgrade system is a welcome addition to the game, but the pressure and constant arms race of upping the ante when these new gameplay elements are introduced may leave many frustrated after several failed runs at the same room.
This game doesn’t want you to forget it’s easy to understand and hard to master. A death counter looms large on the upper left corner of the screen, quietly mocking you as you stumble into yet another enemy. Sometimes, this isn’t your fault. The controls can be slow to act on your commands. Jumps don’t always register and the timing of them can be inconsistent. This is a huge problem when the game relies so much on finesse and precision.
Overall, More Dark is an impressive outing in a familiar setting. Its cliched design and art style won’t be winning any awards for innovation, and it’s sure to get the blood boiling like the bowels of hell, but its brain-tickling puzzle mechanics empower the game’s simplicity, demanding you to engage more than you usually would with games in this genre.
More Dark £4.99
More Dark is a game that plays on nostalgia for the 16-bit era, whilst providing you with a modern challenge worthy of any puzzle platformer, even if it does turn the frustration dial to 11.