Darkest Hunters (Switch) Review
Release Date: May 1, 2019
Publisher: Ultimate Games
Platform: Steam, Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
The land is besieged by evil. Warriors arise to face the challenge. The traditional RPG tropes are delivered without much flair in Darkest Hunters. Instead of an action or turn based battle system, Darkest Hunters mixes these elements with more of a matching puzzle scenario. You aren't out to clear out lines or collect certain gems. Instead, hunters will use these gems, be it to increase their health, attack power, magical stamina, or gold coffers as they fight their way past the vicious enemies on their way to the exit.
The game leans heavily on classic elements in story, graphical design, and general gameplay. Outside of battle you mill your way through screens representing the town, with large sprites evocative of old school PC questing games. Here you can change your character (though I don't see many differences between them), buy weaponry (there are very few different items but you can buy multiple copies to "level up" your equipment), or gain new spells to use in battle. Once you are ready, you head into the battlefield, which is made up of a mazelike pathway filled with gemlike icons. Each tile has a gem on it, and you can move as far as you wish in a single move so long as you keep matching the same tile color. Picking up a big enough chain results in a special gem that will clear a large portion of the board at a time. Gems don't "fall" for chain bonuses or anything, they're merely replaced by more.
You may come across enemies during your campaign who will attack you. Goblins, bears, bats and such are represented by static icons, just like your hero. There are 80 different enemy types, but they tend to either rush you or snipe you from afar. The rushers are difficult because they leave you stuck if there aren't good combinations around you, and the rangers will run leaving you to catch up on those same combo patterns. Eventually, you collect gold, find the exit, and level up your character. Head back into town, buy more equipment or magic, and dive back into the dungeons.
Darkest Hunters' gameplay loop is reminiscent of the obvious mobile game lifestyle with it's five minute campaign bursts. I almost expected to see the turn limit timer pop up requiring a payment to get back into the game, but Darkest Hunters does not chide you for more money after the price of entry. Sadly enough, it helps me see the benefit those games have. Much like getting too much candy, these kind of games can grow tiresome if you don't play them in short bursts. I've enjoyed my time figuring out Darkest Hunters, but perhaps the review lifestyle of pounding a few hours got to me, as I eventually found it tedious. Playing a bit here and there as your average consumer would will likely hold more enjoyment than doing a marathon weekend.
When I got Darkest Hunters for review, it had yet to patch in basic controller support, with all action being taken via finger swipes. This is the best way to play the game, as when I did receive the patch I found the controllers to be sluggish and nowhere near as fast as playing in handheld mode. Taking off the Joy Con and treating the Switch as a decent sized tablet was the most comfortable way to play, though it continued to reinforce my thought that this game belonged on a mobile device.
I do like how Darkest Hunters subverts traditional tropes. Match-Three this is not, as you can chain as far as the screen allows (I was frustrated a couple times where I knew the chain continued off the screen but I couldn't get the cursor to move any further). The RPG elements are a fun addition, though leveling really only adds to your maximum health and offense meter. I was expecting some sort of move limiter like a Match-Three, but there wasn't. Basically, this meant any time an enemy wasn't breathing down my neck I could swipe combos to my heart's content to heal up and prep.
Gamers will also run across sixteen different boss characters. They are usually bigger and provide some unique attack patterns, but again they are modeled as basic icons on the map. Overall this leads to a rather static experience graphically. The story and graphics are nothing to write home about, but the satisfaction of seeing a powerful combo streak and finally taking down one of those %$#@ bears is very satisfying indeed.
If you want a chance to try this unique RPG puzzler for yourself, __________________________________________________________________________________________
-Genuinely mixes up both the RPG and puzzle gameplay styles
-Mobile style fun without the constant nagging for microtransactions
-Graphics do a great job of hearkening back to classic PC gaming
-Unlimited matching makes the "puzzle" element very thin
-VERY mobile reminiscent-if that's not your play style you won't enjoy this
-Leans on classic graphics a bit too much, limiting the graphical polish possible instead of painting a new idea with old brushes
-Leveling options aren't very varied, spells and character select all seem very similar.
Thanks to Ultimate Games for providing a code for review and for the contest!