Review: Our Darker Purpose
When a teacher leaves the class for a moment, he or she expects students to behave normally and continue their assignments. Of course, this rarely happens and instead students throw stuff at each other, yell a lot or climb on top of their tables. Our Darker Purpose goes a little bit further than that and has the students take over the school after every adult mysteriously vanished. The athletic and charismatic students now run The Edgewood Home for Lost Children after killing of all the introverted and quiet children. The sole survivor of this massacre, 8-year-old Cordy, decides to fight back and sets course for the administrators’ offices at the very top of the building.
As the title suggests, there is more going on than meets the eye…
The game is a combination between a roguelike dungeon-crawler and a top-down RPG. Most of the game plays out a lot like The Binding of Isaac, having you explore randomized levels for items, dealing with the hordes of monsters that attack you in each new room, but once you inevitably fall prey to your fellow students, you can invest points you’ve earned in the Extras menu for a permanent boost. These come in the form of classes that you can select (more periods are unlocked as you play), which give you bonuses like 50% more range when standing still or extra items in vending machines, and a counselor that will expand your arsenal when you offer him enough points.
While these bonuses definitely help out, it’s not really something you can influence during actual play and the points simply accumulate as you proceed through levels. Rogue Legacy did a similar thing by allowing players to level up and collect money, which they would then spend on armor and expansions for their mansion. You can level up in Our Darker Purposes too, which will give you a choice of one of two different perks, but these levels reset after each playthrough.
While it’s a shame that the RPG-elements are a bit lackluster, I feel as though the regular, roguelike gameplay compensates for that completely. Cordy controls intuitively, moving with WASD and firing a projectile in one of four directions with the arrow keys, but she also has a dodge-roll move mapped to the Spacebar, which gives her improved mobility. The roll can be used to cross a room quicker, but it’s also useful for avoiding the ridiculous amounts of projectiles the game throws at you. Cordy also carries juice with her that can replenish health and chalk that damages enemies around her when used.
What really sets this game apart from the rest of the immense roguelike market is its transparency towards the player. One of my pet peeves with the genre is finding items and not been able to figure out what they do until I look them up on a wiki. Our Darker Purpose, on the other hand, tells you exactly what an item does after you pick it up and if you were too busy dealing with crazed, bloodthirsty students to look at the text, then you can always find the same explanation in your statistics screen. On that same screen, you can also find all relevant information about your current playthrough, such as your critical-hit chance, damage per projectile, perks and money. There are also no items that only serve to make your life more difficult or cheat you out of a much-needed upgrade, which I feel is much fairer towards the player.
The enemies and bosses are also well-designed and creative. Most of your foes will take on the role of other students who wield weapons like bubbles, chairs, magic or their own fists. Enemies are usually strategically mixed and placed to make sure you’re always getting a meaty challenge, but you’ll also have to deal with several environmental hazards, such as fire, cursed blackboards and spikes. It’s not entirely uncommon to run into scenarios where you’re running away from a burly giant while dodging dozens of projectiles and trying not to get anywhere near those traps lying on the floor.
Fans of Don’t Starve should also pay attention, because the cutesy, gothic art-style that game featured has inspired Our Darker Purpose significantly. The levels feature many grey and black colors, but they are bright and detailed enough to not bore the player. Enemies and bosses are also designed in a similar fashion and have grim designs mixed with cartoony visuals, which creates a very cute result. The designs are also detailed enough to make sure that the player is never confused about what is and isn’t trying to murder them. Additionally, I really admire the lighting effects and the use of shadow here, which has parts of the room becoming darker depending on where Cordy is standing and where light sources are located. Shadows are also frequently a part of the challenge, such as during levels that receive the “underlit” or “bright” traits.
Bosses are some of the most dynamic I’ve seen in the genre to date and usually have multiple phases, a special achievement you can try to complete and even more bullets flying at you than normally. All of the bosses also unlock an entry in the Memory Book, where you can read more about Edgewood’s dark past. However, I am somewhat disappointed that bosses never drop an item. This is instead done by the “champions” that spawn on each floor – regular enemies that have been colored red and have a stronger version of their usual attack. While this can be beneficial to you, as more than one champion can spawn on each floor, it feels a bit anti-climactic to finish a boss-fight and not receive anything for it.
Along with that, I fear Our Darker Purpose might be a little too difficult. It took me seven hours over the course of four days to finally beat the first chapter, which was only four floors long. Part of this can be attributed to the scarce resources you’ll have to deal with, but that is actually part of the fun. Instead, I blame the difficulty on the way the game mixes enemies and rooms together, as mentioned before. More often than not, the game goes out of its way to make fights as inconvenient for you as possible, such as having you fight enemies with large, ranged attacks in a small room or positioning furniture in such a way that you have to walk around the entire room in-between each attack to avoid the damned chalk clouds. It’s also not entirely uncommon to enter a room and be immediately jumped upon or getting hit with projectiles from enemies that were off-screen. To this date, I still haven’t been able to beat the higher difficulties that are unlocked after you finish the game once and I’ve played this game every day since it was released.
However, the fact that I willingly play this game every day despite of my busy schedule, studies and all the other joys of life is a testament to just how good this game is. The shear creativity that went into this game is amazing and playing it is just satisfying. I tried alternating between playing this and The Binding of Isaac and though I got a lot further in the latter, it felt a lot more frustrating and long-winded; even on my most unlucky runs, I can still get pretty far in Our Darker Purpose on skill alone, which often won’t save you in other roguelike titles. If future patches do something more creative with the RPG elements, then this game is flat-out a 10/10. Until then…