Darkened Skye

Review by Skinny Minnie
February 2002

Sometimes you feel like a nut; sometimes you don't. If you are newer to action/adventure gaming, or if you merely hanker for a rainbow of lighthearted fun to appear as you gaze up at the darkened third-person action/adventure gaming sky, then fire up that mouse and keyboard and get ready for a yummy treat!

Your chef of the day is Skye of Lynlora. She is a newly orphaned shepherdess of dwentils (sheep-like creatures) in a colorful fantasy land where the most exciting event of the year is the annual dwentil-shearing festival. Skye questions whether there is more to life and ponders the meaning of the jeweled medallion that her now-missing mother gave to Skye just before departing on that last fateful journey. Later, while chasing a dwentil in the fields, Skye happens upon a tiny, round, orange, crispy-chewy object that appears to have fallen right from the heavens. As she picks it up, her shepherdess's staff suddenly morphs into a gargoyle-tipped weapon of war! It does not take the new resident gargoyle very long to introduce himself, either. His name is Draak, and he not only serves to guide you in your control of Skye, but he also fills you in on the history and the recent happenings of Skye's homeland as she abandons her dwentils and seeks out a tasteful new life as an adventuress.

Ages ago, the Great Rainbow arched the skies, and from it flowed mysterious colored artifacts that enabled magic spells to be practiced freely by all the world's inhabitants. All was well until modern times, when the Rainbow was "appropriated" by the villainous Lord Necroth with his Dark Prism. Magic spells have been outlawed, except of course for Lord Necroth's, and most but not all of the rainbow-colored artifacts are now in his possession. Necroth is obsessed with collecting those few missing delectable confections, er, artifacts, and as such he routinely dispatches his minions to comb the countryside in search of them. If others in the population find those artifacts first, they can still use them to cast magic spells.

Skye's primary objective is to stop Lord Necroth and restore the Rainbow to the world by gathering one hidden ancient Rainbow Prism piece from each land and assembling a new Rainbow. These pieces were hidden by mages eons before as a precaution in the event of disaster striking the first Rainbow. Skye is aided by Necroth's AWOL gargoyle Draak, who has "major issues" with Necroth. Skye may also be able to persuade other unhappy inhabitants to join her in her fight against evil, if her puzzle-solving skills can first lend them a hand when they need it. Skye's secondary objectives are made clearer as the tale progresses: She must find out who her mother really was and also learn about the father she never knew. (Does Darth Vader make a cameo appearance here? I'm not telling ...)

As you take control of Skye in the story, word has already begun to spread concerning your newfound orange treasure. Those aforementioned minions will come after you shortly, so swing that staff and get cracking! Don't worry if you're a newer gamer, though, because Skye is quite simply moved around via your keyboard arrow keys and the mouse. Just click the mouse and Skye will also swing her staff to attack. You can program the few keyboard commands to your preference, but the only ones you'll really do much with outside of the directional keys and the mouse are the Jump and Use commands. Occasionally you will scroll through your simple inventory and spell menus (shown as red and blue banners on the left and right of the screen), but with a little thought and advanced planning it won't be while under pressure. When coming and going at will through five lands' worth of 3D wooded hills, oceanic islands, sunny valleys, and swampy marshlands, you'll be confronting Necroth's flying vultures, club-wielding herdsmen, court jester-like dwarves, and green poison-ball spewing bugs. They all want your orange object, and a Skittle scuttle, er, I mean a little tussle will ensue whenever they appear.

Other than that, you will need to talk to all creatures great and small because their wisdom and experience in the various intriguing lands will help you to attain your ultimate goal. Don't worry; the conversations are brief and to the point. There aren't even conversation trees to wade through. Draak attempts somewhat humorous translations of any unintelligible local dialects.

You should also pick up and collect any items you can for later manipulation or trade, keeping your eyes open for their potential uses later. Most of the quite varied types of inventory items are picked up automatically either when you have Skye run up to them or via nonplayable character interactions in cutscenes. There aren't many stereotypical door keys here—inventory runs the gamut from fish, carved tablets, ropes, skulls, sponges, and exploding stones to bugs, seashells, garments, and even a venom bottle and a portable time machine! These are mostly used in whimsical but understandable puzzle-solving ways to further the story along and enable the ultimate completion of the Rainbow quest. You may even add to your confection collection if you play your cards right with the locals and take a few leaps of faith as well! Hey, this is Skye of Lynlora we're talking about here, and her life has a "save the game anywhere" feature, okay?

If you are new to the adventure genre, this game is a great way to get your feet wet, as oodles of basic puzzles abound in it. Some do get more complicated as the story progresses, but there is Skye's "Notebook" area in inventory where giveaway hints can be obtained if you do get stuck. The one annoying area for me was a series of three nearly identical forest mazes, which should have been delivered with a map option! You will eventually complete all of your forest quests by playing around with your newly acquired Skittle magic spells, oops, I mean little magic spells, but more real landmarks in the mazes would have made it less aggravating!

Some characters and items glow when they can be interacted with, but others do not give such loud nudges, so feel free to be a little inventive in your investigating! Some characters will respond differently or offer new information depending upon what inventory item you show them. To progress in the story, a giant slingshot needs to be unlocked, correctly armed, and commandeered for Skye's cause of right. A coded password in a darkened cave must be deciphered and used in another location. Secret paths, doorways, and pedestals must be remotely triggered in up-down-all-around ways, and sometimes you need to creatively hitchhike from one locale to the next. Paths through the water to various islands can be made with certain collectable, sponge-like objects found spawning across the landscape. Granted, there are a number of jumping puzzles across the water requiring said sponge-like objects; no Tomb Raider-style super gymnastics are required there, though. That said, most times you are simultaneously under attack by Necroth's forces while jumping, and you will have a puzzle goal of some sort to accomplish while you are under fire. It is also during those water jumps that you will meet huge, brown, centipede-like creatures who unpredictably whip their long bodies up out of the deep and snap at you as you leap by, attempting to knock you into the water. For you personally, this may not be a problem. However, "Warrior-Hero-Adventurer-Goddess" Skye cannot swim! Conveniently, though, there are one-key shortcuts available for quick save and quick load without ever leaving the game scene.

One of my favorite aspects of Darkened Skye is its humor. This is one delicious little romp that manages to blend a streamlined, lighthearted atmosphere of fun with comedy in a pleasant way. It even makes fun of its own candied roots every now and then! The characters in Darkened Skye don't manage the depth of emotional range that those from games like Anachronox, The Longest Journey, or Shadow of Destiny deliver, but they are humorous in their own right. Skye herself reminds me a little of April Ryan from The Longest Journey in both looks and attitude, except that she is sometimes more sarcastic. There are also some mysterious soothsayer-type characters in the various lands who reveal little about themselves in the early stages of the game, but they seem to know much about Skye and her family and want to help. Skye even develops an early crush on one of them! You will unravel their mysteries through repetitive contact as the game progresses, too. This game has a more fluid and cohesive storyline than many action/adventures I have played, despite its straightforwardness. This really is a "people-person" type of game. It's a little hokey in some spots, but it is more family fare than many games released today, with the possible exception of all of the fighting, which even so is completely devoid of gore. The cutscenes are short but do their part to propel this amusing tale along.

Graphically, the unique 3D characters are brightly detailed and expressive, and the vivid 3D environments invoke realistic feelings for each land. The splashy brown marshlands are alive with jumping fish, swarming bugs, hopping frogs, and swaying lily pads. The hills are rich greens and golds with vibrant orange sunshine beaming from the mountainsides. The oceans are navy and gray, with rocky islands, rolling fog, and misty skies. The forests are dark, thickly settled, and roughly barked. The medieval, castle-like structures house black wrought-iron gates, stone steps, and underground dungeons, all the while floating like islands in the azure seas. All in all, the visuals are a pleasant experience! I really had fun taking screenshots of Darkened Skye, too, especially when trying to get pics of those truly elusive and rarely seen rainbow-colored artifacts!

The modernistic jungle orchestrations change with each of the five lands and are mostly uplifting, only becoming tense in the more challenging battle locales. The sound effects are minimal, but seawater does lap onto the shore or splash underfoot, frogs croak in the ponds, dancing elves play flutes in the forest, and the Heart of the Forest actually does emit a progressively louder heartbeat as you approach it. (It probably should have burst into song with a full brass band after dealing with those mazes to get to it ... but I digress.) Actress Linda Larkin's vocalizations of Skye are quite animated and amusing; Ms. Larkin is known for her previous voiceovers in movies such as Disney's Aladdin series, where she played Princess Jasmine. Draak's character is a bit loud and overacted but entertaining at times nonetheless. Some of the tribal dialects are unique: Fish and mermen bubble their speeches, and magic creatures garble in high-pitched falsettos.

You do pick up more than adequate amounts of health vials and plants as you go along that can be used to offset any damage Skye takes. As far as RPG elements go, this game can only be construed as an "RPG-lite-lite!" There are no buildups of character stats or armor. You will, however, come across mana refills that help to fuel your staff's magic spells once you create them with those mysterious artifacts you've collected. Think of it as filling in the Dots (oops, wrong candy reference there, sorry)! The spells themselves are extremely simple in design and use. They are created by going into spell inventory, and dragging and dropping those artifacts into colored wells below each spell's name. Then you scroll through inventory to the spell you want, like True Sight (to see hidden items in the landscape) or Prismatic Pulse (a colored spell attack that damages some enemies more than others). Just click the mouse to use any selected spell. You can even combine spells for stronger effects as the game progresses. You do get round, solid white crosshairs when you use the mouse to aim the staff for attack spells, too. By the way, Skye's health and mana (represented by onscreen red and blue spheres) will both replenish on their own if you wait long enough, but her health especially will take a while.

If you are a somewhat experienced action/adventurer, you won't find the fighting scenes or the jumping-under-fire areas to be too difficult, but the unpredictable attacks can be fun nonetheless. The fight scenes do escalate in frequency and intensity as the story nears its end, but tactical maneuvers can lighten the load and lengthen Skye's life. Some of the enemies can be taken out from afar. At other times, some baddies can be led away from the main group and extinguished separately. Fear not, combat newbies, for you do eventually meet up with some special comrades who will help you in your end battles, and the early worlds really have much more puzzle solving than battling anyway. Darkened Skye starts out in such an easy fashion that you may assume it is targeted only for younger teens and new gamers, but its difficulty does increase somewhat as you progress through the story.

All in all, this is a sweet confection of a game that could have given more to chew on as regards some of the puzzles, but it was still humorous and fun, with some excitement thrown in besides. Hey, it's just food for thought, but this was definitely the most subtle and enticing Skittles candy commercial I have ever experienced ... Oops, did I give that part away already? The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Boston Animation
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Interactive
Release Date: January 2002

Available for: Windows

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Screenshots

Skye and Her Staff Squatter Named Draak (click to enlarge) Dig the Soothsayer´s Digs (click to enlarge)
Be Sure to Brush and Floss After Every Magic Spell (click to enlarge) Trading Stock—Wall Street in Lynlora (click to enlarge)
Skye Plays a Puzzling Tune on Her Flute (click to enlarge) The Looks of Ogmire´s Fish Will Turn You Vegetarian (click to enlarge)
Did I Mention the Under-Seige Jumping Puzzles? (click to enlarge) A Fishy Puzzle from a Tikini Swamp Elf (click to enlarge)
Of Course There Is a Magical Merlin to Help You Bag the Rainbow (click to enlarge) Puzzling Tradesmen (click to enlarge)
Go Lara Go! I Mean ... Go Skye Go! (click to enlarge) Warrior-Hero-Adventure-Goddess-Who-Can´t-Swim Meets Perceptive Bad Guy (click to enlarge)
Soothsayer Dorian = Skye´s Crush or Darth Vader in Disguise—You Decide Welcome to Ogmire City—Home of the Court Jester-Like Baddies (click to enlarge)
You´ll Be Laughing in the Face of Death ... I Jest You Not Skye Can Spell Jester (click to enlarge)
One of the Rare Skittles Cameo Appearances in This Game! (click to enlarge) Whale Spittle Skittle—But Hey ... Green Apple Is a Limited-Time-Only Flavor! (click to enlarge)
Die-katana Will Ya! Bugs Attack During Jumping (click to enlarge) Well ... Think of it as Jumping for Joy That There Aren´t Any Baddies Here (click to enlarge)
Er ... They´re Not Jumping Puzzles ... They´re Just Switch-Activated Platforms You Leap Across (click to enlarge) Secrets Appear Using the True Sight Spell (click to enlarge)
Can You Spell Skittles? (click to enlarge) Skye´s Mental Notes Transcribed Courtesy of El Dorado´s Miguel and Tulio (click to enlarge)

System Requirements

Win98/ME/2000/XP
Direct X 8.0 or higher (included on disk)
Pentium II 350 MHz (Pentium III 500 MHz recommended)
64 MB RAM (128 MB RAM recommended)
8 MB video card (16 MB recommended)
Install requires 400 MB of free hard disk space (600 MB for full install)
Gamepad or joystick optional

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