Ads are gone. We're using Patreon to raise funds so we can grow. Please pledge support today!
Google+   Facebook button  Twitter button 
3DS | DS | PS3 | PS4 | PSP | VITA | WII | WIIU | X360 | XB1 | All
Dark Heart of Uukrul (PC) artwork

Dark Heart of Uukrul (PC) review


"The title villain in Dark Heart of Uukrul, doesn't just dabble in near-immortality and nasty magic. He's crushed the underground city of Eriosthe beneath his will, eradicating hackneyed old hinty taverns so you must rely on his oblique concern-trolling hints. He's scattered eight stone pieces of his heart through the city to gain immortailty. The good news? You only need to find six, and a hammer, to challenge and defeat him. The bad? There's a reason you're given two passes. That, plus s..."



The title villain in Dark Heart of Uukrul, doesn't just dabble in near-immortality and nasty magic. He's crushed the underground city of Eriosthe beneath his will, eradicating hackneyed old hinty taverns so you must rely on his oblique concern-trolling hints. He's scattered eight stone pieces of his heart through the city to gain immortailty. The good news? You only need to find six, and a hammer, to challenge and defeat him. The bad? There's a reason you're given two passes. That, plus some nasty combats, shows up Wizardry and the AD&D series as the FPRPG equivalent of Choose Your Own Adventure. DHoU fools the player, but for the better. For instance, it allows a 2-d automap, which becomes useless when paths wrap over each other. It feels unfair, both for level building and puzzle solving, but it isn't. It just has no use for traditional puzzles.

Character creation sets the tone early. Four dilemmas determine your fighter, paladin, priest and wizard's attributes. Self preservation or eternal damnation? Rob or thrash a vulnerable enemy? Drink or sell a weird potion? There are no wrong answers, but some definitely help early survival better. Starvation comes quickly to weak parties who just explore. Death's for good if a party doesn't visit a mausoleum quickly. DHoU emphasizes brutal efficiency in finding critical fights just to survive. Early, it's worthwhile to run through twice from the latest sanctuary--a checkpoint that recharges a party on first visit and allows a backup save or teleports to earlier checkpoints. I didn't notice this with my first few tries, making DHoU's auto-saving during a fight or death seem nightmarish. That, and DHoU used a checksum on save files.

Combat, like saving, is nasty but allows for a backup. Enemies scuttle around on a top-down grid laid out like the corridor being explored, and then everyone attacks. While moving can be diagonal, attacking is not, and the strategy for positioning a party to blast an enemy or trap him in a corner can be tricky. The enemy AI is stupid, but they mostly bounce around except when fleeing. Thi is certainly not realistic, but it poses legitimate challenges, and getting whipped by enemies who can't even figure out obvious strategy is as nasty as any of the puzzles. So much can be based on where everyone starts, though, and range enemies often poison the party quickly.

The antidote is to restart the game before everyone's killed. Combat is reset, and hopefully the monsters are nearer and fewer. Though there's a maximum of seven, one can ruin it all by killing your priest, DHoU's "loser class," who opens secret doors and casts and endgame spell and not much else. Sometimes protecting him is the major challenge. Still, getting stuck in a bad fight is more a penalty than anything--the party can eventually flee unscathed after ten or so times. Easy fights penalize you too, as beating the same monsters quicker gives less experience from DHoU's black-box experience formula. This opens up gambling in critical fights that could be won by magic, and it's an unsubtle poke at the party to find the next pipeline of reliably winnable fights to gain experience. Not solving a puzzle means the party can stagnate around cheap fights. Uukrul, decidedly smart-evil, takes pleasure in the details, and his puzzles are meant to frustrate.

Their individuality possesses a meanness off-limits to more traditional riddles. Even getting places is difficult, with in-game auto-mapping mockingly ineffectual. Mapping Eriosthe with graph paper requires a concept of tunnels. It's all on a grid in memory, but doors act like teleports, so there's no neat sixteen-square box with an obvious secret stash in the one uncovered square. Even early areas wind about like this, offering maps in small nooks and clues where you must cast translation spells--about all the priest is good for, until the ending spell extravaganza. First come knuckleball map and maze challenges where you must note doorknobs and floor blemishes on a spinner square helps work through a nasty map to the first stone heart. Later, a big maze features two rooms with five doors on each side. There's also a tricky diamond-shaped place with one-way doors and a vicious crossword. It's a nice preparation for the seven-a-side cube, which packs in pits, ladders and trap doors. Uukrul's hideout has twelve teleport machines, with most options sending you to very bad places, along with elevators based on dice or card collections, and a puzzle of numbered squares where you walk that many forward. Even with Uukrul packed off, the last area's one of those exams that covers everything you learned, or everything you could've if you'd REALLY paid attention. Some puzzles have three possible solutions, which gives the baffled player a fair chance and leaves him something to shake his head at.

With all this, DHoU doesn't need to be fancy. The stark grey walls, grates and hammer-and-crown embossed doors never quite let you forget where you are and what you need to do. When DHoU tries, a storm of pixels fades one of your spectral allies into and out of view, or spells flash longer than you want. Combat enemies generally have the decency to pop up quickly then start weaving like crazy in the wretched scrunched screen.

Combat's a bit on the wretched side, scrunched into a small screen. Even the shopkeepers get testy. Weapons break frequently, and they get mad if you ask them to reforge wood. About the only fancy part is when a storm of pixels causes one of your spectral allies to fade into view, then out, or the spells where something flashes much longer than you'd want. DHoU doesn't really branch, but it doesn't need to. The stone ring where you drop hearts is in the center of the city, and the enclaves for priest and wizard advancement are off to the side.

I've played tougher games than DHoU and more aesthetically pleasing ones. It's not a game I can play straight through. Yet by weaving in the six-of-eight requirement with tough puzzles, it gives Uukrul hubris beyond an evil laugh. Beating DHoU felt like a victor over evil and unfairness--until I realized, my first time through, I repeated several lucrative critical fight by not taking the quest item it dropped. Taking off the water wings, I found it wasn't as unfair as I thought it was. With its nasty puzzles I never seem to be having THAT much fun re-solving them, or finding the best fights to jump between. Yet it uncovers a lot of new strategies when I push myself. It's a sort of fun without fun that means there's no old-school FPRPG quite like it, and if the presentation seems plain, the challenges definitely aren't.

Rating: 8/10

aschultz's avatar
Community review by aschultz (February 28, 2010)

A bio for this contributor is currently unavailable, but check back soon to see if that changes. If you are the author of this review, you can update your bio from the Settings page.

More Reviews by aschultz
Jones in the Fast Lane (PC) artwork
Jones in the Fast Lane (PC)

Jones isn't perfect but offers revealing rat-race insights beyond the densely-packed jokes that never get cynical or fluffy. I found myself calculating how to cram in quick cheap education before week's end, or even working way more than I needed to or putting off asking for a raise (yes, it's just a game. Yes, ...
Bikkuriman World: Gekitou Sei Senshi (NES) artwork
Bikkuriman World: Gekitou Sei Senshi (NES)

It showed me that, yes, RPGs can transcend language. Maybe none can as well as your average puzzle game. But BW has lots more fun trying and getting far closer than expected.
Circus Caper (NES) artwork
Circus Caper (NES)

I felt little guilt replaying through it with cheats on, and I recommend anyone who wants to check it out do the same...But fortunately the cheap deaths will fade away much sooner than the bears on unicycles and such instead.

Feedback

If you enjoyed this Dark Heart of Uukrul review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

board icon
zippdementia posted February 28, 2010:

Recheck your first paragraph, Aschultz:

The title villain in Dark Heart of Uukrul [removed comma] doesn't just dabble in near-immortality and nasty magic. He's scattered eight portions of his heart throughout the undergound city of Eriosthe he rules. It's so evil, there aren't even any hackneyed-hinty taverns to help. The good news? You only need to find six of the hearts, and a hammer, to challenge and defeat him. The bad? There's a reason the game gives two passes [What are passes?]. That, plus some nasty combats, shows up Wizardry and the AD&D series as the FPRPG equivalent of Choose Your Own Adventure. DHoU manages to balance feeling unfair with being relatively fair--well, once you notice things [notice things?].
board icon
aschultz posted February 28, 2010:

You're right. A lot to clean up. I sent in an initial proof but I'd bet 1 or 2 more things could be done.

HGMail me or post in the topic especially if you have stylistic concerns the judges could easily pick up on. Don't wanna tip em off :).

You must be signed into an HonestGamers user account to leave feedback on this review.

Info | Help | Privacy Policy | Contact | Links

eXTReMe Tracker
© 1998-2014 HonestGamers
None of the material contained within this site may be reproduced in any conceivable fashion without permission from the author(s) of said material. This site is not sponsored or endorsed by Nintendo, Sega, Sony, Microsoft, or any other such party. Dark Heart of Uukrul is a registered trademark of its copyright holder. This site makes no claim to Dark Heart of Uukrul, its characters, screenshots, artwork, music, or any intellectual property contained within. Opinions expressed on this site do not necessarily represent the opinion of site staff or sponsors.