I kind of hate what the 2000s obsession with dark edginess did to media for a while. Despite the fact that we got fantastic movies and games with a darker and more mature tone, like The Lord of the Rings or Max Payne, there were just as many titles that went too far with this theme, which is why I never cared for the Gears of War-series or the awkward Marvel-movies. Yes, there was a time when Marvel-movies were downright bad.
Darkened Skye, falls into the dark-fantasy genre, which already had me on edge. Taking a shot on this sub-genre can be like flipping a coin: you might either get something intriguing or something that is just laughable. Well, I am going to jump the gun here and just say that in this case: you will just lose the coin entirely. This was a terrible time, and the fact that it was originally packaged with Outlaw Golf did not sweeten the deal. By the way, this is a game about Skittles. You would not be able to tell this unless you read the copyright-print on the back of the box in the corner or actually tried to give this game a fair shot. There is definitely a reason for that.
TASTE THE RAINBOW
After a bizarre hallucination, we meet up with the shepherdess Skye, talking to her long lost mother, metaphorically, to provide exposition on her life, Necroth’s reign of terror, her opposition to him, and the odd talisman her mother left her with. Right as she is done with this odd form of dialogue, one of her animals runs off and Skye gives chase. As she does so, she stumbles upon a bizarre gem with an S on it, which also turns her shepherd-staff into one with a gargoyle on it. This leads to our protagonist eventually getting a quest to save the world, and you bet every exposition she provided in the beginning will lead to exactly the cliche conclusion you might expect.
I am not gonna dance around the bush here: the story’s plot is rudimentary and uninteresting. Skye will be tasked with gathering these gems and find the reasons for the talisman, and of course, save the day. There is little to speak of in terms of progression, as you will be set on tons of fetch-quest around the world that will lead you to plot-important items, and meet forgettable characters like a Merlin with no personality and generic water-creatures that only appear for plot-convenience. You will visit different areas, but it is a bizarre mix of being heavily inspired by our world’s cultures, while also wanting to be a semi sci-fi world with a medieval fantasy style. As you can expect from an uncreative studio, it makes for a messy style, setting, and even confusing lore that is never explained enough to get a foothold.
It could be argued that the story is self-aware and rather tries to have fun with itself, as the characters, namely Skye and her eventual sidekick Draak, will spout out commentaries that either break the fourth wall or provide jokes. None of these are entertaining, as they are either used to excuse lazy game-design, forced reasoning to look elsewhere, or provides poor punchlines that only those who just discovered what humor is would find barely chuckle-worthy. When you have constant jokes that are simply there as excuses for moving the story forward, or for poor, vulgar puns, it gets simply tiresome. The worst one being “backward-language”.
Surely: humor is severely subjective and I am weak for puns myself, but none here come of as clever or strengthen our characters or the story overall. In fact, no character becomes interesting and are either cliches, like the forgettable love-interest and the wise old lady, or one-dimensional, like the quirky sidekick that is supposed to be a contrast to our main character. I say “supposed to”, because Skye is just as sarcastic as Draak, making them eerily similar and even more forgettable due to not being distinguishable in personality from one another.
If this was not enough, however, the story has no clear tone. There are plenty of jokes and poor comedy, but there is just as much exposition on the fate of this world, Skye’s mother and moments to be taken seriously. It is hard to do so and be emotionally invested when the characters are one-dimensional. In fact, there is only one character later in the game I remember for a clever secret that I honestly do not want to spoil. Not because I recommend getting to this point, but because there are lets-plays for those interested.
So where does the marketing of Skittles fit into this mess? Well, in the first level, you are told they are magical gems that can give you magical powers, courtesy of the rainbow. I honestly just wish it could have more fun with this concept, poke more subtle jabs at the concept, and actually become something worthwhile, as there are so many comedic games that do this fantastically and can have serious moments or even great undertones, like Mother 3, Psychonauts, or the aforementioned Max Payne. Even some actual lore that could have gone further with this bizarre content could have helped.
However, it is clear that the developers just wanted to make jokes because they did not care about this project and had no interest in pouring any real effort into this. Poor comedy all over the place mixed with cliche setups makes for probably the worst time I have ever had. After the long story, it all ends with an awkward ending that is cliche, yet confusing. Did you even want to sell a product?
Story Score: 1/10
The magic is lost, uncomfortable, and downright terrible
So with a staff in hand and possibly magical gems in your pockets, Skye is somewhat of a battlemage. With third person tank-controls, you can melee attack with left trigger, jump with the right and perform whatever magic or use collected items you have at disposal. Should any aspect of the controls be uncomfortable, you can luckily remap all of them, which is a nice detail. Sadly, this is the most positive aspect of the gameplay.
Let’s start with the smaller annoyances, so we can take in this mess with ease. There is a ton of platforming to do in Darkened Skye, and it is done with stiff controls and slippery edges, meaning you will fall to your death on multiple occasions. You can luckily save anywhere you want, but this feels like a hassle to do so every minute when you have cleared a jump. Since you will have to constantly save to avoid falling to your death, this save-features feels rather implemented to get the player further, like with save-states used for older titles, instead of fixing a technical problem.
Unfortunately, you are going to have to jump around literally everywhere and find platforms, perhaps even create small ones yourself, and explore every nook and cranny. This is because despite featuring a linear progression from stage to stage, the actual stages themselves are big and made for exploration. This is a decent idea to give every stage a flavor of their own and the world a sense of scope, but this is completely ruined by two elements. Firstly, the level-design is either completely basic with only small jumps needed to be made for getting to the end, or complete mess with plenty of bottomless-pits. This could have been both terribly dull and annoying due to the rudimentary of the level-design and the slippery edges, but there is a worse aspect to these huge areas.
Darkened Skye tries to add more to their world by forcing you to go back and forth between puzzles or characters on fetch-quests. In other words, the puzzles are rather dull with the worst one making you hit switches in the right order or get the worst crushing sound effect I have heard in a while, and the best ones feel more like context-sensitive moments. This is not a saving grace at all, but how nice can one be to design that shows no effort? As for the fetch-quests, they are made to pad out the game at best and, at worst, force you through uncomfortable platforming-segments. The levels also have little to no visual distinctions in order to make areas memorable, so you can easily become lost and confused on what to do next.
With all these terrible design-choices and lack of care, we are left with the combat and magical abilities Skye possesses. First off, the melee-combat is lackluster since you just swing your staff and try to hit whatever is in front of you with poor hit-detection. It is hard to aim as Skye will just swing her staff downwards, or spin it around herself uncontrollably, despite there being no form of combo or even need to do anything else than to hold down the button for continuous attack. Enemies aren’t varied much either, and are more an annoyance than a threat, as fights become wars of attrition or consist of boss-fights with simplistic patterns for dodging and hitting. This becomes especially uninteresting when you can automatically heal over time.
Really, the only enemy that can be a hassle is the flying one or those with ranged attacks as they can easily take you off guard and have high accuracy. This is where the magic comes in, as it is, among other things, the only way for you to use ranged attacks. Throughout the game, you will find different colored Skittles that can be put into a menu in order to equip magical abilities. This could have been used for experimenting and create new magical spells, but sadly, you can’t. You are given magical abilities as you progress and just have to put in Skittles in order to use them. This becomes busy-work when you want to use another spell and hit the pause-menu, making the magic feel like an afterthought.
This is a shame, as there is lost potential here. While magic will be used for casting ranged attacks like fire and ice-magic, it can also help outside of combat, such as walking on lava, revealing invisible objects, or creating platforms. However, due to the linear progression, all quests or uses for magic outside of combat become context-sensitive moments instead of use for creative progression. This destroys what could have been a fantastic idea and only once did I ever see this being used well, when I could not grab a hotkey hanging over lava, despite the fact I could walk on fire.
I could go on with other smaller annoyances, such as the dull riding segment with stiff controls and lazy obstacles, but what else needs to be said really? Clunky, uncomfortable, cheap, underdeveloped, lazy, and overall just poorly designed, this is probably the worst fantasy-game where it fails in every category. Platforming is lazy and slippery, combat is a joke, magic is dull with only lost potential, and puzzles are rather context-sensitive moments. How do you make a battle-mage or even a shepherd-mage boring? Easy: you show how little you care.
Gameplay Score: 1/10
How come your product has more colors than this?
Dark fantasy can be done really well and stylishly. There is clear evidence that it has been done before, like Majora’s Mask and Diablo 2. Sadly, Darkened Skye falls flat on its face with terrible textures, lack of colors, and areas that are only thematic and never unique. Swamps, rocky-mountains, a China-inspired location, it all should create variety, but no place becomes memorable due to lack of identity or decorations. All stages feel the same.
Even the colors are lacking and nothing stands out to make them feel good. How do you make a game about Skittles and lack colors? It is surely might be due to how magic is lost in this world and the Skittles from the magical rainbow are its saving grace, but each area only has a couple of dark or washed-out colors, and with nothing interesting in its layouts (with one exception featuring magic carpets), I can’t say I ever got invested in where I was.
Even the magic or other mythological creatures are dull. There is an idea here with your staff shooting colorful-beams and creatures being at least fantasy-like, but there is nothing unique or interesting here, as everything is too basic to be memorable. Even Skye is uninteresting and feels like a character designed to capture on the strong female-protagonist. She fails at being as memorable as her competitors, due to basic and minimum design without an interesting color palette or attire.
Then there is the quality of this whole project, which makes it look like a poor N64 title. It is simply unforgivable for a GameCube title or even a PC title from this era. This also makes lighting off and unrealistic, magic is flat and lacks oomph, and the 2D textures in the background are blemishes on the visuals. The two CG-cutscenes at least help somewhat, but are also rather passable due to poor physical effects, and being mixed with live-action.
The audio might be even worse, as voice-samples are often reused, screams are ear-grating, and explosions will make you wonder if your speakers are destroyed. The crunched sound-effects are constant and loud, so I might actually recommend turning off the audio altogether. The music is not great either, and while there are 17 tracks with diverse takes such as western or medieval, all are repetitive songs that loop and just get stronger with more instruments. It gets old fast. It does not help when diegetic and non-diegetic sounds mix poorly and overlap each other.
Voice-acting is also all over the place, and can either be over-enthusiastic or uninterested. It is an odd mix, but I am surprised they got Linda Larkin and Robb Pruitt to do the voice of Skye and Draak. A snarky Jasmine on an adventure with the blue M&M is not a terrible idea, it is just a shame they also seem to be bored out of their minds and have almost no direction. Like the game overall
Presentation Score: 2/10
I can see why Skittles is not mentioned anywhere on the box with the exception of the copyright-material. It is a project with no effort put into it, no idea what to do, and instead gives those who purchased the game a grand middle finger. Terrible humor, a misguided story, exploration that is mixed with awful platforming, combat, and magic that are worthless, visuals that are as bland as a white laundry, and audio that can make you deaf. At least those who sold me the game, Sammelparadise, gave me free candy. I have always been happy with their customer service, and this was just what I needed. I am never touching a Skittle again. I honestly don’t want a snarky gargoyle alongside magical Skittles. Give me an M&M, then we can talk.