Well, here it is. The "long" awaited sequel to Out of this World. Long awaited may be overstating things but it is nevertheless a sequel to a somewhat popular game. The game design has the appearance of a basic side scroller but without the repetitive, mindless gameplay of one. Every screen is a puzzle in itself, ranging from easy to perplexing. As the game progresses, several screens are linked together in one larger puzzle. You may have to do 3 things in one area so that another area is passable.
Another thing that might initially look bad is the use of VGA graphics. There is no SVGA mode but the game still looks great. The color palette is quite varied and has subtle shadings as well as the more vibrant colors. There are also some really nice effects such as water and light rays. Each screen in fact, looks like its own little rendered piece of art. I can just barely see the pixels so although SVGA would have been nice, it's not a huge loss. The game looks great and the only downside really, is that it doesn't quite run fullscreen. Instead there is a 1" black border on my 15" monitor. The game has the appearance of watching a high quality cartoon on TV instead of some flat lifeless graphics as in most side scrollers. It "breaks the mold" so to speak.
I love the sound. It's varied and imaginative. There are man eating flowers in one area that have the most realistic snapping sound when they try to bite you. The parts where you have to dive underwater also have great gurgling and bubbling sounds. Your character has a nice variety of death screams and reaction sounds too. From the yelp of being eaten by piranha to the crunch of being crushed inside a giant skull. I didn't hear any music unfortunately. Would be interesting to hear what it's like.
The prequel, Out of this World, had a similar eye for detail and realism to the surroundings that this game has, but I always found that game a little too hard. Dying in OOTW usually meant doing many sections all over again to the point that the game became very frustrating. In Hearts of Darkness you get the same level of entertainment, but without the stressful design. Most areas are at most, 5 screens long. You figure out how to pass the area and the game AUTO SAVES your position. At no time do you need to ever save the game. You automatically start where you left off the next time you play, and you can access any of the previous screens, one by one. It'd be nice if more games saved this intelligently. The difficulty balance is just right luckily, and you find that most areas can be passed after a few initials experimentations. You usually die once or twice but you quickly learn what's going on and how to avoid the danger. This balance really makes the game enjoyable over other side scrollers where blasting thousands of monsters or making dozens of skill testing jumps are the only challenge. It's also the type of game that you can keep coming back to. You can do a few levels in one sitting and then reload it another day to continue where you left off. All in all, I expected a lame platform title and was given a rude awakening about 10 seconds after it loaded. Nice title all around.