By John Walker on October 1st, 2010 at 1:23 am.
Ever since I played the trial version of Drawn: Dark Flight, I’ve wanted to go back to it. It seemed special. Having now finished it, I can confirm it is. Created internally by casual game distributors Big Fish Games, it doesn’t seem to have received its deserved coverage, so here’s some now.
Perhaps what most distinguishes Dark Flight is that it’s not a hidden object game. It is, in fact, a full adventure game, complete with multiple characters, inventory puzzles, and a splendid, dark fairytale story. It’s the sequel to Drawn: The Painted Tower, a sweet game but one that was clearly a stepping stone toward reaching Dark Flight’s loveliness. While the story directly continues after the first game, everything makes perfect sense without playing both.
You play an unseen protagonist, charged with relighting a city’s three beacons, in order to rescue a young girl called Iris. To reach each of the three you have to solve multiple puzzles, and most distinguishingly, interact with a number of paintings. Delightfully, Dark Flight’s design takes a sort of “paper is magic” approach, meaning anything folded, painted or drawn can come to life, or be entered into.
The most obvious version of this is paintings. Complete a painting by restoring any torn canvas and you can enter it, Rose Madder style. Inside your unseen character can talk to characters within, gather necessary items, and always change something of the world in the picture. Objects from inside the painting can be taken outside, and become real. But equally, so can hand-drawn items (occasionally the game has you trace dotted lines with crayon or charcoal, to finish pictures) be used, both inside a painting, and in reality. If you are missing a carrot for a puzzle involving a rabbit, then the drawing of a carrot in your inventory is just as good.
Papercraft and art items appear to be intrinsically magical, meaning their properties and abilities are never clear. The game’s absolute highlight are the pop-up books – phenomenally gorgeous designs that can be manipulated by pulling on tags, and then further by applying objects found in the rest of the game. Changing seasons by adding a sun, or lighting papercraft beacons with drawings of flames, make for remarkably rewarding puzzles.
Then there’s dioramas, with multiple backgrounds, props, and gadgets involved. There’s papercraft puppetry, there’s collage, and more. It’s all so smart, and so seemingly in love with the format.
Along with all this are more traditional puzzles, although – for once – not the same as every other casual adventure. Yes, there’s a torn paper puzzle, but no, it’s nothing like simply reassembling an image. It’s about overlapping scraps of design, an imaginative twist. There’s many logic puzzles, all fresh to my weary, jaded eyes. And some are extremely challenging. One in particular involves colouring in a giant face with six distinct colours. Not unusual, and of course needs you to mix them from three base colours. However, here it’s about a vast network of chambers and gates, the liquid paint flowing in from one section to the next, mixing as colours meet. It was remarkably difficult, and after coming so very, very close to finishing it, and spotting a stupid mistake that would mean starting all over again, I confess I used the “skip puzzle” option that appears for every challenge.
It’s on a very short timer, and if you’re frustrated, or just want to move on with the story, you can hit it and the puzzle’s automagically completed. It’s enormously unsatisfying to click, and doesn’t reveal how a puzzle is solved either, so using it can only make you feel shamed, meaning it’s never tempting to cheat. But what’s important is that it’s there, so you won’t get stuck behind something your brain can’t quite figure out.
Other clues are offered if you’re stuck for progress. Despite the game flagging each new challenge very well, you may forget what you were up to between sessions, or simple have gotten tangled. There’s no giant cooldown on its offering you the next tip (unlike the previous game), meaning you can learn what to do whenever you need.
But most of all, it’s beautiful. Really breathtakingly lovely. Every screen is a real joy, often surprisingly downbeat or darkly presented, although frequently exuberantly bright and colourful. Very often your progress adds colour back to duller sections, although this isn’t a mechanic of the game.
The accompanying music is fantastic too, and the sparsely used voice acting is top notch. It really is quite the thing.
Really, this is worth a look. It’s a sombre fairytale, gorgeously presented. It’s not a classic point and click adventure, but it’s also nothing like the dreary button-pusher nonsense that’s dominating the casual adventure field. It’s actually rather special.