Heart of Darkness

Moby ID: 262
Windows Specs
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Andy is a child who likes playing with his dog Whiskey, doesn't particularly enjoy going to school, and has a knack for inventing complicated gadgets. One day Andy and Whiskey are strolling through the park, when suddenly a solar eclipse darkens the sky, and after a moment Andy realizes that his dog has been taken away. But science can solve everything, and Andy heads to his treehouse, which is home to his outstanding inventions, including a spaceship! If you thought it was just a toy, you thought wrong, because Andy boards the ship and pilots it into the heart of the Darklands, a world controlled by the evil Master of Darkness. Andy takes out his gun (another splendid invention of his) and prepares to fight the evil sorcerer's minions. Nothing will stop the boy from rescuing his beloved dog!

Heart of Darkness is a cinematic 2D platformer designed by Eric Chahi, the creator of one of the genre's progenitors, Another World. Though the game has many fast and furious action sequences, including shooting hordes of dark creatures, it is built like a series of tasks, each requiring different approaches, from arcade-style shooting or jumping to interacting with the environment and solving puzzles. Like its spiritual predecessor, the game is linear; completing a section usually takes Andy to a different location, where another task awaits him.

Andy has several guns at his disposal, though in certain locations he will lose his weapons and will rely on the player's wit or quick reaction to survive. Andy will also gain magical energy, which can be used to grow or destroy trees. Similarly to Another World, many hazards are placed on the hero's path; despite the child-oriented premise, the game contains graphically explicit death scenes, which occur if the player is not careful or quick enough to save Andy from a gruesome demise.

Heart of Darkness features orchestral music and pre-rendered animated cutscenes. It comes with a pair of 3D glasses, which allow the player to view certain scenes in the game in 3D.

Spellings

  • ハート・オブ・ダークネス - Japanese spelling

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Credits (Windows version)

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Reviews

Critics

Average score: 77% (based on 38 ratings)

Players

Average score: 3.9 out of 5 (based on 90 ratings with 8 reviews)

A challenging, atmospheric platformer that's not as well-known as it should be.

The Good
Fantastic animations and presentation for its time. * Imaginative world and level design * Clever, challenging puzzles * Orchestral soundtrack

The Bad
Sluggish controls * Frustrating combat sections * Weak ending

The Bottom Line
Heart of Darkness might be better known for its lengthy, troubled development than for the game itself. Designed by Eric Chahi along with his team at Amazing Studio, it was a spiritual successor to his pioneering cinematic platformer from 1991, Another World. Originally meant to be released in 1995 on the 3DO, it was delayed so much that it ended up being released on the Playstation in 1998. By the time Heart of darkness released, it couldn’t help but feel dated next to games like Ocarina of Time, Half-Life, and Metal Gear Solid. Despite that, and somewhat middling reviews, it has become a cult classic for many who played it.

The two games are remarkably similar in terms of gameplay and plot. You control a protagonist who finds himself in an alien world with strange technology and magic, and must solve puzzles and fight numerous enemies to survive. While Out of This World had a 70’s sci-fi vibe, Heart of Darkness is more in the mold of a Spielberg 1980’s fantasy adventure.

Heart of Darkness follows the adventures of Andy, a typical suburban kid who doesn’t get along well with his teacher and has a fear of the dark. One day after school, a solar eclipse occurs and Andy’s dog, Whiskey, gets sucked up into a black hole. After racing home, he packs his things, grabs his gun and helmet, and hops into the spaceship he invented to head to the Darkland where Whiskey was taken. Along the way, he’ll have to face many enemies, but also make friends. That plot’s a lot to swallow even for a video game, and you kind of have to just roll with it as it plays out.

The plot may be paper-thin, but I actually really like its presentation. For one, the voice acting is actually quite good, and I don’t think there was a single character that sounded flat or out of place. The orchestral score by Academy Award nominee Bruce Broughton, one of the first orchestral scores in a video game, really heightens the cinematic fantasy feeling of the game during the cutscenes. Only a cop-out of an ending keeps me from absolutely loving the way this game tells its story. While I don’t necessarily hate where the story goes and what it suggests, I will say that it seems to cut itself short just as things are getting really interesting, and the way it transitions from climax to denouement will be incredibly jarring for most players.

Fans of Another World will feel right at home once they finally get to control Andy. This is a platformer with step-based movement, meaning that actions are delayed after you push the button in order to accommodate complex player animations. Andy can sprint, jump. Unusually for a cinematic platformer, Andy can also double-jump. This is very useful for dodging some projectiles and getting over gaps.

While Andy has invented an lightning gun, its not something that you’ll be using for most of the game. Instead, Andy’s primary means of attack is magic, which he acquires by touching a glowing rock at the bottom of the lake. You can either fire single shots or charge up for a more damaging shot, which is really only useful on certain enemies. The charging shot can also be used to manipulate certain objects in the environment, such as making plants grow from seeds, or destroying obstacles in your path.

The game’s puzzles are very well-designed, often forcing you to come up with clever solutions to get past obstacles. You’ll frequently need to manipulate the environment and the creatures inside of it to find ways around them, or take advantage of Andy’s size and agility. Admittedly, though, there were a few times when the game just flat-out gave me the answer because I was dying on a particular screen so much, but its understandable since the game wants to keep up its pace. Still, I wish that the hints were something that could be optionally turned off.

Where the game falters a bit is when you have to actually start fighting the darkness. Much of the game’s combat encounters can be completed by standing in one place and simply firing away until all enemies are dead. You’ll occasionally need to jump and duck to dodge projectiles, but most of the time its about making sure that any enemies on all sides of Andy are killed. Enemies seem to take an inconsistently long time to kill, and there’s no cancel button for firing animations, meaning that quickly dodging something can be a challenge unless you see it coming from fairly far away. It doesn’t help that the frame rate is only about 15 frames-per-second to accommodate the game’s animation. All of these flaws are exemplified by the game’s combat-heavy final chapter which features numerous such encounters, including a unique enemy type that respawns two more of itself after you kill it. It was quite a slog throwing myself against this wall over and over again, and at times it felt more like luck rather than skill when surviving some of these combat sections, even after I got reasonably good at it.

Another issue is the game’s lack of scrolling. This is a flaw that many cinematic platformers unfortunately have, and Heart of Darkness does absolutely nothing to solve it. Screens can sometimes take some time to actually load. As a result, some of the more fast-paced sections of the game have to be replayed over and over again until you beat them, because you cant see a deadly monster or gap coming up after the screen flipped.

The graphics were a major selling point for Heart of Darkness. While the pre-rendered graphics and environments may look similar to games such as the Donkey Kong Country series at first glance, the lighting, textures, and animations are far more detailed than in the SNES platformers. It’s honestly amazing how fluid and realistic the animations for Andy look, and it still impresses even to this day.

What really stands out is the art design. The tone of this game is truly eerie and otherworldly. These environments are simultaneously beautiful and frightening to behold, and there’s quite a bit of variety. You’ll traverse canyons, swamps, caves, and volcanoes to track Whiskey down. Similarly, creature design is fantastic, with some genuinely creepy and foreboding enemies to face and friends to meed.

One of the things that contributes to the game’s atmosphere is also arguably Heart of Darkness’ most notorious feature. You see, despite having a family-friendly rating from the ESRB, this game has some of the most shocking deaths you are ever likely to see in a game rated as such. There may be no blood or guts, but that doesn’t make the deaths any less disturbing. The first time you see a flying creature pick Andy up and snap his spine in twain, complete with a loud crack, it’s hard not to wince and question how this could have possibly slipped past the ratings board. You’ll also see Andy get incinerated, crushed, and eaten alive by numerous creatures, leaving behind nothing but his shoes. Even some of the villains characters have painful-looking deaths. These deaths make the “darkness” of the game something that feels like an actual nightmare, giving the game the feel of a dark fairytale.

While the gameplay flaws are frustrating, I have to say that I really enjoyed Heart of Darkness while it lasted, which admittedly wasn’t long. There simply aren’t enough games like this that get made today, and Heart of Darkness is overall an excellent, if dated example of its genre. One of the most underrated games of the 32-bit era, this dark, atmospheric title very much deserves a re-release or even a remake on modern platforms. Despite its initial kiddie appearance, this is a game with some real bite and challenge, and will appeal to older gamers arguably more than children.

PlayStation · by krisko6 (814) · 2018

Out of This World at the Heart of Darkness...

The Good
Phew! Almost 6 years in the making and at last it's RELEASED! You can't get yourself asking, "why it took so long?" I don't have the answer, neither believe it's so important: If you like the game, there is no problem!

In general, I liked the game. Especially being able to find yourself again in a world similar to Another World and Flashback after all those years is a great enjoyment --just like playing the Curse of Monkey Island! So as expected Heart of Darkness improves the known quality to a incredibly lifelike experience.

The opening intro of the game is a perfect example for this thought. This stunning animated cutscene is just like watching a movie, like watching an earlier work of Steven Spielberg. It's not difficult to understand the interest of him in making a computer generated movie with the story of Heart of Darkness. Maybe, it'll be a second Toy Story affair, eh? Who knows? Amazing Studios (the developer of the game) is currently working on setting up a new company to handle CG movies.

The Bad
Although I like the gameplay, it's definitely frustrating to play. You didn't manage to cross the section you were in? The game immediately sends you back to the action and waits you perform your required skill. Unfortunately there is no alternative way to find in Heart of Darkness!!

For a 1998 game the low-resolution graphics could also be a problem. But you can't blame the developers for this because it's in the making for a long long time. So you had better amuse yourself with the 3D dimension they had filmed for the end sequence :)

The Bottom Line
One state-of-the-ART! 'Nuff said...:)

Windows · by Accatone (5191) · 2000

If at first you don't succeed: try, try again

The Good
Heart of Darkness is a platform game similar in style to Another World. Andy is a teenage who likes to study for someone else and gets in all kinds of trouble. One day while attending class, he gets in so much trouble for bringing his dog Whiskey to school, that he is doomed to spend time in the closet, which he somehow escapes. Later, both Andy and Whiskey study on a lush, green meadow when things start to happen: a) the moon covers the sun, b) Whiskey is taken away, and c) Andy gets transported to a strange dimension where every living creature is his enemy. As Andy, you must find your beloved dog and escape this dimension.

HOD is created by the same people who did AW. The same enemies that you face – shadows, flying beasts, and monsters – are similar to what gamers faced in AW. The controls are the same: jump, run, and shoot, and most enemies can use a secondary attack to take your out. The only difference here is that Andy can use his special attack to deal with the most difficult obstacles. Andy's special attack can also be used on enemies to knock them out in one shot. The only problem with this is that special attacks have to be recharged before they can be used, and that takes about five seconds, during which time you could be killed before you have the chance to use it on something. Andy can also somersault in the air and perform long jumps.

The game consists of eight short levels, and most of them take a bit of patience to get through. More often than not, you are more likely to get killed by an enemy or some object because you may either get your timing way out of line or do things that you are not supposed to. You have unlimited lives, meaning that you can try each scene again and again until you get it right. In each level, there are a series of restart points which can save you a lot of time if you do have trouble with such scenes. It is interesting to watch how you die. Most enemies gobble you up in some way or throw fireballs at you. The enemies have excellent AI. Once they see you and follow you, you can't retreat to the previous scene because they usually follow you off-screen.

Throughout HOD, there are a number of cut-scenes which made me think that I am actually watching a 3D children's movie. The graphics in the cut-scenes are right there with the movies, and the script is well thought-out, and it was exciting for me to know that at least one creature is Andy's friend, the Amigos that you meet in Level Two, and in almost every cut-scene, you can be sure that something always bad happens.

I was impressed with the metaphor that the game uses. When selecting the options, you are not treated with the usual boring choices, but with a first-person view of the gadgets in Andy's workshop. You cycle between options (New Game, Continue Game, Options, etc.) by using the left or right arrow keys, and except New Game, selecting one will cause a monitor to show something that is relevant to what you are doing. My personal favorite of these would be Options, where a clean, green GUI shows up on the monitor above the selection.

The environments in which you travel to are detailed than those from AW. You will try to fight off enemies as you travel though a canyon, swamp, jungle, caves, lava areas, and more. You can even swim underwater. The enemies are drawn nicely while looking nasty at the same time. There are puzzles in each of these environments. The puzzles range from growing a seed in the right place to take you up to a higher platform, to figuring out a way to get a certain object in the one place, which may be a difficult task.

The music is performed by the Sinfonia of London and conducted and composed by Bruce Broughton. Most of the music can be heard in the cut-scenes. I rarely noticed it while I was playing the game. The sounds coming from each enemy in the game is interesting to listen to, especially the shadows and the winged beasts. As long as there aren't any enemies in the scene you're in, you can hear the sounds of other creatures in the next scene, so you always know what to expect in that scene.

The Bad
The screen has a black border around it. Why this is the case, I don't know. Maybe the software that the game was programmed in didn't allow for full-screen graphics.

The game is a bit difficult, especially when you get to the last chapter of the game. You are faced with too many enemies at once while you have to repeatedly jump or duck just to avoid their attacks. It is so easy to mistime your jumps or perform the wrong action when you get into situations like these. In the last level, you have to press either [Alt] key twice to somersault, to avoid attacks, but sometimes the double key-press just did not register, and I had to suffer dealing with the same enemies that I just killed.

The Bottom Line
Heart of Darkness is a great platform game, similar to Another World, expect that you have more moves. The game consists of eight levels, which require a bit of timing and practice before you can complete its scenes. The moves you master will be put to the test in the final level as you battle with so many enemies at once. The music and sound effects are excellent, and the environments are beautiful. The cut-scenes within the game are what you expect from a children's movie.

If you are looking for a decent platform game, one that really bites, it's hard not to miss HOD. Before that, Another World was all the rage. If Delphine Software had made this game like they did to AW, and not just a few people from that company, then it would be totally different.

Windows · by Katakis | カタキス (43092) · 2006

[ View all 8 player reviews ]

Discussion

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european publisher pierre martin (5) Feb 19, 2021
Willy Beamish? John Peterson Oct 1, 2009

Trivia

Aliens

The friendly aliens Andy runs into in his adventure are called "Amigos", this is Spanish for "friends". In fact they all speak in Spanish in the English version, although they do so in loose, unconnected words.

Copy protection

This game is one of the early users of CD-based copy protection.

Development

Eric Chahi (main creator of Heart of Darkness) worked on the game from September 1992 to June 1998 (5 and 3/4 years). The game is based very loosely on the Joseph Conrad novel of the same name.

DirectX

Although the installation program insists that you need DirectX 6.0, the manual says HOD will run on NT 4.0 with SP3.

Extras

  • The game comes with a small pair of 3D-glasses with which you can check the after-final animation which is black and white until you put those glasses and see the depth and get a feeling of what you see as real 3D picture.
  • Some releases of this game on CD-ROM contained a Making of Heart of Darkness video documentary, which had interviews with the development team.

Soundtrack

The soundtrack for this game is performed by The London Symphony, and composed by Bruce Broughton. Release date is 1999. The CD also contains a Demo of the game.

Tracklist: 1. Main Title 2. Andy's Mission 3. Big Mistake 4. Andy's Friend 5. Space Island 6. Vicious Servant 7. Back to the Lair 8. Meteor Destroyed 9. The Plot 10. Andy's Victory 11. End Credits

This soundtrack was available on the Intrada label (www.intrada.com).

Story

Though the game is not a sequel, add-on pack, nor spin-off, the game has a striking similarity of story to 1990-1992's Commander Keen series.

Information also contributed by B.L. Stryker, Garcia, MAT, Narushima, Swordmaster, Yeah No and Zovni

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Contributors to this Entry

Game added by Brian Hirt.

PlayStation added by Grant McLellan.

Additional contributors: MAT, DreinIX, Zeikman, Patrick Bregger, Bart Smith, finsterhund.

Game added September 5, 1999. Last modified February 24, 2024.