Monday, January 17, 2011


It’s not easy being Peter Grey. His bookstore’s on the verge of bankruptcy and his wife’s cheating on him with his best friend. His only escape is the comic book adventures of Darksheer, the Batman-esque protector of the eternally darkened city Noctropolis. Even that’s about to be taken away as the new issue ends with Darksheer dealing with the last of Noctropolis’s villains and retiring from heroics.

His doorbell wakes Peter from nightmares of being seduced by a fanged woman to learn he’s the winner of the “I Want To Be Darksheer!” contest. He gets a package containing two coins and a new issue where a villain called Flux breaks Darksheer’s rogues gallery out of jail and starts terrorizing the city. And as soon as Peter touches one of the coins he finds himself in Noctropolis, a city crying out for a hero.

Frankly it’s a surprise that anyone decided to make a serious superhero game not based on a licensed property, let alone a point-and-click title rather than an action game. This unlikelihood is evident at times during the game, as the designers didn’t seem entirely sure of what they were doing. The dialogue during the comic book scenes is ridiculous most of the time. And not in the "it's a comic book" sense, instead as if the writers had never read an edgy 90’s comic. Which is the very thing they were trying to create. Have you ever heard being murdered referred to as “a ride on the body bag express”? That sounds dumb even to me, and I've read my fair share of comics.

The dialogue throughout the rest of the game is similar, with people sounding like they’re reading pre-scripted responses to general questions. Of course they are, but they shouldn’t sound like it, and in the good adventure games they don’t. Then again in good adventure games they usually don’t reveal clues or the plot by making you click through about twenty dialogue options and listen to every single response with every person you talk to, either. Investigation has its place, but what kind of action-packed superhero game is that?

Yep, no sun.

No sun at all.

Speaking of destroying the atmosphere, after Peter ends up in Darksheer’s hideout and assumes the mantle himself, nobody notices. He’s going around town dressed up like the local superhero, the one everyone’s desperately hoping will come back and save them from the forces of evil, with the local superhero’s knife-toting partner, Stiletto, at his side. Only Darksheer’s enemies react to them as if they’re anything but two regular people who want to see the head of the company or get a pound of ground beef or whatever. It’s hilarious, and throws the idea of this game as a serious, mature adventure to the winds.

Interfacing with your surroundings in Noctropolis can be a chore, even for veteran adventure gamers. For one thing, veteran adventure gamers are probably used to there being a general move command that makes your character walk wherever you click on the screen. Noctropolis has a “GoTo” command, but it only works on specific parts of his surroundings. So he can walk to a carpet or to the sidewalk, but only if you click on something that the designers though merited a description box. This is jarring when you reach a screen where Peter has to sneak around a bunch of spotlights and he suddenly does walk wherever you click. It’s easily the most frustrating part of the game.

For what it’s worth this game does take some of the guesswork out of using items. Rather than being forced to try every item you find on everything in the game, the use command is very general. If you’re in the right place to use an item or have the thing you’re meant to combine it with in your inventory, Peter automatically figures out what the designers intended. And usually the proper use for items in this game isn’t too much of a stretch, like jewelry = bribe material, diamond = makeshift glass cutter. No, the problem is finding the tiny sprite meant to be a screwdriver or oil can in the vast environs you’ll explore, or realizing you’re meant to pull out one (and it has to be just the right one) of the fence spars.

The only superhero endorsed by Red Green.
A colorful cast would’ve gone a long way toward making up for these flaws, but sadly they’re pretty generic. One of the villains is basically a male version of Poison Ivy, named Greenthumb. Yeah, Greenthumb. And another of the villains really is a psychotic magician named Top Hat. There are many comic book characters who seem flat and defined by their powers, but they can become endearing if we get a chance to see how each is twisted in their own way. None of the arch villains in this game are actually in the game long enough to develop beyond a bare bones character sketch and lame name, and seeing actual people performing them in primitive digital video is no substitute. Although the Drealmer is kind of a fun villain if only because of where you take him on.

Where the game really drops the ball is its portrayal of Stiletto, Darksheer’s former partner and would-be girlfriend. The game wants you to believe she’s this deadly femme fatale, and she does help out during Peter’s first battle with a villain. After that, pretty much her only utility is to pump stupid, horny men for information and get captured so a guy who wasn’t even a superhero the day before can save her.

Actually, I'm kind of glad I couldn't get the sound to work.

There’s a lot of fun that could be had in an adventure title about an original superhero character. Unfortunately Noctropolis is a pretty good example why you can count the games like that on one hand. With all these things weighing the game down, it’s really no wonder there was no story of Peter rising up against a new evil threatening the city of night.

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