Dark Arcana: The Carnival (Collector's Edition)
Year Published: 2012
Publisher: Artifex Mundi
Developer: Artifex Mundi

When I played Dark Arcana: The Carnival years ago, it seemed like a "once and done" game - I felt that I would never need to play it again, but since I wanted to write a full review, I had to revisit it. My opinions didn't change.

Clowns are the least of your worries at this circus.

As an unnamed detective, you are sent to investigate the disappearance of Susan Jones at a carnival. When you attempt to interview the manager, he runs from you, sets traps to keep you from following him, and ultimately escapes into a warped "Mirror World" version of the fairgrounds. The manager seems to have kidnapped Susan for the purpose of a ritual that will bring back his deceased wife. But there is a weird twist involving a "Smoke Monster"-like being known as the "Evil One" that haunts the Mirror World - a twist I found too convoluted for its own good and rather unconvincing. This was the main reason I didn't care for the story of Dark Arcana. The Mirror World, while aesthetically interesting, was the reason I didn't care much for the game.

The problem with the Mirror World is that it's used as an excuse to present you with the same hidden object scenes multiple times - once in the real world, and again in the mirror realm - and you're even made to find the exact same items in these scenes. While the game's artwork and general design feels similar to many other Artifex Mundi games of the era, shortcuts like this evoke the sense that it was made cheaper and more quickly than some others to satiate the rapid growth of the genre. I'm not sure why the game is titled "Dark Arcana" as it has nothing to do with cards, but it's not alone in the HOG misleading title boat.

I have to pass through the mirror, but I'm not sure I'm going to like it.

The real scene-stealers here are your monkey helper character and the Mirror World Guardian, a talkative disembodied cyclopian skull with floating skeletal hands who looks sinister, but is actually quite helpful. You might find these characters entertaining, and maybe even the game itself for the few hours that it lasts. But, you know what, I've said this about a million other HOG's on this site. And for those who don't want to go through the trouble of looking it up, here is my original capsule review from 2015:

"An okay hidden object game that takes place in a nightmarishly creepy carnival setting and falls into the "too short and easy" category, and has a plot twist that's extremely difficult to swallow. I finished it twice in two nights, once on Normal and once on Expert difficulty for the achievements. Artifex Mundi has wonderful scenery art, but damn, their CG character models are as unholy as ever."

Again, my opinions didn't change, and that last line about the CG characters still stands. After all, it's kind of hard to find a talking skull or a smoke monster creepy when the humans are already doing that job.

SCORE: 2.5/5