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The Mystery of the Darkhaven Caves Reviews
Author: David Whyld
Date: 2004

Reviewed by DIY Games (August 2004)

The Mystery of the Darkhaven Caves is one of the longest and best designed ADRIFT games Iíve seen in a while. While the writing is sometimes trying too hard to evoke the feeling of suspense, the game design more than offsets this small deficiency. You decide to explore a series of caves in order to find a fabled treasure, and along the way youíll discover an entire world filled with goblins, elves, sharks, trolls and others. From time to time, youíll run into a well-placed joke, which breaks the tedium. I had the feeling that I was playing Arx Fatalis in a text mode, and I mean it as a compliment. Every adventure and role-playing fan should try this title out. 

Reviewed by Eric Mayer

In David Whyld's CHOOSE YOUR OWN you embark on a routine business trip and don't even realize you're going to have an adventure until strange things begin to happen on the train.Mystery's THE ADRIFT PROJECT - CLASSIFIED gives you the task to test the Adrift Project ship where something has gone terribly wrong and in TICKET TO NOWHERE by Richard Otter you have the most important meeting of your life in less than seven hours, but missed your train and need to find some other way to get to the meeting on time. While these are both important problems for the protagonist they don't seem to me very dramatic.

In CHOOSE YOUR OWN the lack of a hook doesn't much matter because all you do is choose options which lead you through variations of the adventure. I've played this to a number of different ends and it turned out to be my favorite in this category. Even I can't get hopelessly stuck in a choose-your-own!

Reviewed by Laurence Moore 

When you produce as many games as Davidw then it's very easy to have a few of them get lost in the portfolio and hardly become topics of discussion or garner a healthy series of reviews. Even if they were a competition entry. 

The Mystery of Darkhaven Caves is one such game that I played bits and bobs of on its initial release but never finished it. Now, having tackled and completed the adventure, I'm certainly glad I took the time to dig it out of the archives. It's not a classic game. It's certainly not Davidw's best game, either, but it does have its own charm and very much a retro appeal. 

The plot is wafer thin - again, commonplace with retro text adventures. There you are, the hero, and off you head to a network of caves where buried treasure is rumoured to be stashed - no one has ever found the treasure, no one has ever returned from the caves, no one has ever emerged from the trials within. Yep, you're a pretty dumb sort of hero, too, but not so dumb to arrive empty handed (as you do in most games). No, this time you are at least carrying a sword. 

The location descriptions throughout are also pretty thin, just a few lines, but are fairly atmospheric in places. In fact, I kind of found this refreshing. It was a nice change of pace to escape from the reams of flowing text present in most current games. The caves themselves are a maze but rather than a very boring and pointless maze (Acornsoft were notorious for this - I hated those iron tunnels) at least you have plenty to do here. 

In the early stages of playing I fell foul to a teleporter but clicking on the map would (or so I thought) quickly resolve this. Ha, no it didn't, because the map had been cleverly disabled so I was hopelessly lost for a period of time. I stumbled upon a Troll and rather than lunge for the sword I tried a bit of conversation. "talk to snugg" wasn't recognised but "talk to troll" was. I took this as an oversight but it should have been included. Snugg is a typical Davidw monster creation - he has a bit of personality and humour...and also a toothache. Ah, time for a Troll toothpick, methinks. There are a few other characters to bump into, as well, such as Cyana the Elf (try stealing a kiss), Mad Tom (a wizard...try and kill him) and Pargus the magnificent and most of them have errands for you to run. Once again, this is very retro in style, leaning towards inventory based puzzles - meet NPC, learn what item is required, find said item, return it to NPC. For example, with Snugg, it's obvious you need to find a toothpick and, once obtained, you can exchange it for a cello (play the cello, twice, for a humorous response). Now, go and find that musical fellow the harp player. Guess what you have to give him. In fact, you can offer him several items. 

Gold plays a part, as well. The gold isn't listed in your inventory but you can "x" or "count" it to see how much you are carrying and it is essential because you will need to buy items if you want to complete the adventure. Somewhere in the cave is a merchant Gnome willing to sell you a bargain or two. There is also a scoring system present with a maximum of 125 points to be achieved. 

The puzzles, and there are some, are mostly inventory based, as mentioned above, and here I certainly got another rush of retro text adventures. 

In fact, the entire experience is retro so if that isn't your thing then you might want to give this one a miss. I also kept thinking of the maze in the fighting fantasy gamebook The Warlock of Firetop Mountain although Davidw's maze has much more humour and less danger. 

I enjoyed the game - it's not in the same league as Paint!!!, Dead Reckoning or Sophie's Adventure but then it isn't supposed to be, either. It's a light hearted cave crawl with an interesting assortment of puzzles and things to do, easy to pick up and play. It did leave me wondering a few things though. Here, we have an author with an obvious love for the text adventure (and many other similar formats) but what makes him tick? What drives someone to devote such time to such a hobby? What games are the author's personal favourites? Does writing a new game still bring the fresh buzz of excitement as the one before? (note to KF, arrange an interview). Did The Mystery of Darkhaven Caves provide the author with as much satisfaction as previous (or later) games? Actually, I'm sure Davidw had a lot of fun writing this one, pretty much the same level of fun I had playing and completing it. The humour and feel good factor does shine through quite often. I generally found I could do what I wanted and encountered no serious bugs or anything that left me hurling the file to the recycle bin in a rage. What I did find was a good game. A game that, no doubt, the author enjoyed putting together. And one which I certainly didn't end up pulling my hair out in frustration (I should stay away from AIF). 

In summary - 

Quick and untaxing gameplay 
Text fairly non-verbose 
Nice retro feel 
Decent NPCs 
Inventory based puzzles 
Good humour 

If you're looking for a break from the heavy and deep IF niche then this is a good departure for you. Would you like a window seat or the aisle? 


Reviewed by David Welbourn (11 Nov 2005)

A reasonably fun cave-crawl and treasure hunt, and a lot less dangerous than the intro would suggest. The most annoying feature is some random teleportation you'll be forced to endure, blocking certain passages until you find the magic doodad that protects you from it. There is also a little bit of guess-the-verb, but nothing an experienced adventurer can't figure out eventually.

There are several NPCs in the game, and they provide the bulk of the wackiness and humour. For example, the woman in the cage managed to make me laugh a few times, and I was amused by an abrupt shift in attitude you can evoke from the goblins.

Anyway, if you like cave crawls, give this one a try. There's a good chance you might like it.

Rating: ***

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