The Bottom Line: A mashup of adventure game and RPG that’s awash in Saturday-morning vibes, this genre-defying quest delivers simple gameplay and no shortage of laughs.
Saturday morning used to be an event. We’d wake up, rub our tired eyes, stumble out of bed, pour a bowl of sugar-loaded cereal, and plop down in front of the good old CRT just in time to sing along with the opening theme. Saturday morning cartoons had it all – daring heroes, loyal sidekicks, cheesy taglines, zany antics, and bumbling villains who always escaped to fight another day. Were these cartoons masterpieces? Hardly. But they sure as hell kept us coming back every Saturday.
Dark Scavenger might be the closest a game has ever come to capturing the spirit of those cartoons – quite a feat for a game that features absolutely zero animation. It begins with you falling in battle to a galaxy-devouring being known as Den. Left for dead, you’re picked up by a group of space junkers who call themselves the Dark Scavengers. Their ship is short on fuel, so in hopes of rustling some up you touch down on a nearby planet that just so happens to be embroiled in an all-out interspecies war. Because no adventure is complete without a healthy serving of global annihilation!
The gameplay features a healthy mix of exploration and turn-based combat. In the exploration phase, you crawl from room to room, clicking objects and initiating dialogue with characters. Conversations and other events play out through dialogue trees, and you often have the opportunity to resolve conflicts by using items from your inventory. Should your attempts at diplomacy fail, you’ll be thrown into combat, which plays out in turn-based fashion not unlike a JRPG. While there’s no EXP to be gained, winning battles usually nets you loot that can be crafted into useful trinkets.
Each member of your crew crafts a different type of item. First off is Kamaho, a skeletal figure with the inventiveness of Donatello (the ninja, not the artist), who covers all your weapon needs. Next is Falsen, a goofy green-faced alien who occasionally lures enemies into the back of his van. He crafts items that heal, stun, and produce various other effects. And finally we have Gazer, a mute, Xenomorph-like creature who conveys his thoughts through outlandish gesticulation. If you need summons, you go to him.
While I certainly appreciated the practical and peculiar implements this trio provided me with, I also simply enjoyed spending time with them and their wacky antics. And the good vibes don’t stop when you leave their ship – the entire planet abounds with characters that amuse and delight. The conflict between the Daas, Escella, Dafuun, and Vindil races provides plenty of comedic material, and many of the characters will likely leave a lasting impression with you. A couple of my personal favorites were Amoren, a slippery villain who channels the spirit of Final Fantasy VI’s Ultros, and Safter, a big-hearted Dafuun with whom you’ll partake in a tense ballet of ducking, dodging, and covering one another’s backs.
One interesting twist on the usual RPG formula is that you can use the entirety of your inventory both inside and outside of battle. Of course, using potions in the field is nothing new, but here you’ll be using your equipment directly to solve problems and resolve conflicts. For instance, if you were to stumble into a patch of bramble, you could push through while losing some health, or you could use a sword to slash through it and pass unscathed. Because weapons can only be used a certain number of times per chapter, you have to consider which ones you can safely expend in the adventure portions and which you wish to save for combat.
While you can minmax you way through the game if you choose, doing so is largely unnecessary. In my playthrough I never met an obstacle I couldn’t overcome, and by the time I reached the final chapter I had more items than I knew what to do with. I did encounter one optional boss that took me a few tries to defeat, but aside from that challenge the rest of the game was a breeze.
What Dark Scavenger lacks in challenge, however, it easily makes up for in charm. Interestingly, one of the game’s greatest strengths – its artwork – is also its greatest weakness. Every scene exudes love and care and the characters nearly spring from the screen with personality. The downside is that there is no animation whatsoever. Then again, perhaps this is in keeping with the game’s influences. It’s clear the developers are no strangers to gamebooks like Choose Your Own Adventure and Lone Wolf. As in those classic books, the artwork here is accompaniment to the dialogue, not the other way around.
Will you enjoy Dark Scavenger? Well, since I can see you enjoy reading the off-beat indie reviews I post here, I’m inclined to say yes. It’s a game with a narrow focus, one that caters to folks who enjoy goofy adventures. One day, when you want that cartoon feeling but aren’t in the mood for more reruns on Disney+, Dark Scavenger will be there for you. Be sure to enjoy a heaping bowl of Cocoa Puffs while you’re at it.