*WARNING* – THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS POTENTIALLY MAJOR SPOILERS FOR HEART OF DARKNESS. IF YOU HAVE NOT YET PLAYED THIS GAME BUT HAVE AN INTEREST IN DOING SO, PLEASE BE AWARE THAT THIS ARTICLE WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS*
Gamers these days seem to enjoy punishment in their games. It is one of the reasons games such as the Dark Souls series and Sekiro are so popular. Gamers love nothing more than getting pummelled time after time, living by the mantra of “Git Gud” these are the sorts of games that separate the casuals from the experts. It is not necessarily something that kids wanted from their games in the 90s & early noughties. We just wanted some enjoyment, some challenge was nice but we didn’t want every tiny mistake punished. We didn’t want to die over and over again at the same point. There was no online walkthroughs or YouTube tutorials in those days. You might have had a friend who could defeat a boss for you or get you passed a level (These people were basically living gods amongst us mere mortals) but nobody could help you when it came to Heart of Darkness.
Heart of Darkness was a 90s platform game released from the PlayStation and Windows pcs. You control Andy who suffers from Nyctophobia (fear of the dark) he is instructed to watch a Solar Eclipse that is due to happen that day. This Solar Eclipse seems to open a portal to another world, where dark monsters steal his dog Whisky. Forcing Andy to have to face his fears and rescue his dog. On paper the game appears to be quite cartoony and fun. I can admit it is nothing short of torture.
How can characters that genuinely look like this be involved in a difficult game? I figured going back to this game as an adult would be a doddle, I must have last played Heart of Darkness when I was about 10, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Everything about the game setting and controls came back to me fairly quickly. You start out with a homemade electric cannon to help destroy the darkness monsters. It is fairly effective but losing it within 10 minutes of the game robs the little power you have at that time, the difficulty really ramps up after this. There is no health bar. One hit and you are done. You really do you start to feel how hard the game is. Mistime a jump by a fraction – you’re dead, misjudge an enemy attack – you’re dead. Go after the wrong enemy first – you’re dead.
Continuing through the game as Andy. You will notice that the bulk of the story is fleshed out through the cinematic sections (they are actually done quite well for 1998) including real voice acting. Cinematic set pieces make up for around a quarter of the overall game but really help give you an understanding of the world you are in and the creatures that inhabit it. The majority of the actual gameplay revolves around solving puzzles of sorts. Each time you enter a new section, you have to figure out which enemies you need to kill first and in what order, where best to grow the vines that help you climb into the next area. After losing your electric cannon you will eventually gain the ability to shoot green goo from your hands (Bit strange I know but it helps)
Unfortunately, the game can be a little bit boring at times. The checkpoint system can be very frustrating given the amount of times you will die and have to go back during the game. The gameplay itself is quite “Rinse and Repeat” you end up doing the same thing over and over. You would also think that a game spanning over 2 discs would be fairly lengthy but it can be completed within around 4-5 hours with no extras to the gameplay or replay-ability unless you want to do the same thing over again, which you probably won’t, given that your sanity will have long deserted you after watching poor Andy die in numerous and often painful looking ways.
Just 6 of numerous times I died during gameplay. As you continue on your journey of “1 Million ways to die” you will eventually be reunited with your beloved dog, lose your goo powers & regain your electric cannon after being eaten by the monster who gobbled your gun. You then electrocute him from the inside and escape from his corpse (This game has a rating of E which means it is suitable for all ages.) you then truly have to face your fears as Andy is forced in to a final battle with the darkness master in an almost pitch black setting. After triumphing you will see the final cutscene which shows Andy awaking in his Treehouse, having conquered his fear of the dark.
I decided it would be a good idea to set up a counter for every time I dies during gameplay. After finishing the game my final total stood at 247 times (Yes, seriously!) how I ever completed this game as a child I have no idea. I had a look through the settings and discovered there was an easy mode I could have played, there was also a hard mode. I decided against giving hard mode a shot as I think I would have lost my mind. I would recommend this game if you are looking for a difficult challenge. If you are looking for a bit of nostalgic fun then probably best to avoid this game. If you have played it before you will get the odd nostalgia hit here and there but if you are a first time player. Maybe try something a little easier like Nuclear Thermodynamics or some Rocket Science!