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DarkMaus (PC) artwork

DarkMaus (PC) review

"Of Mice and Souls"

DarkMaus (PC) image

"Dark Souls, but with mice..."

If you had pitched that premise to me several years ago, I'd have stopped talking to you forever. But here I am in 2018, ready to sing the praises of a game that is ostensibly From Software's beloved face-crusher, except with rodents as its main cast. DarkMaus thrusts you into a top-down world composed of shadows, with only the occasional tans and reds used to liven up its fittingly drab landscape. Nightmarish creatures and powerful warriors dot the map, ready to drink your salty tears every time you falter...

And you will falter, believe me. DarkMaus's mechanics require precision and careful movement. Every slash you execute leaves you vulnerable, so you need to make sure that every hack counts and that you can evade danger--via blocking or dodging--after attacking. However, you also need to consider your stamina. Every time you block or leap out of harm's way, you tire yourself out. DarkMaus's creatures are typically smart enough to realize this, and capitalize on your miscalculations.

DarkMaus (PC) image

However, as with any Souls-like, DarkMaus occasionally rewards the daring. Sometimes an extra strike and a depleted stamina meter could spell a big victory for you. One chancy blow could be what you need to injure or finish off a mini-boss and steal its unique equipment. This isn't only true about combat, either. Delving further into a dungeon and risking your life grants you access to tucked away corners filled with extra marrow (experience), restorative items or steel shards used to upgrade equipment.

As with any risk, there's a high potential for failure. Normally, I would say the onus is on you if you perish because DarkMaus' mechanics are reasonable. Unfortunately, though, they're still somewhat flawed. The game features an auto-target system that also allows you to switch opponents using the right thumb stick. However, sometimes your mouse automatically locks onto a target who freshly enters the battlefield, screwing everything up.

DarkMaus (PC) image

This happened to me many times, especially while battling a certain mini-boss in a fortress. Our fight raged into the corridors, where I inadvertently aggroed an off-screen spearman. Rather than maintaining focus on my intended foe, my rodent turned towards the spear-wielder. The mini-boss seized the opportunity and ended my life in that instant. Even if I had twitched out a guard or a dodge, I wouldn't have survived because I wouldn't have been properly oriented to mitigate the damage. Thankfully, you can disable auto-targeting by pressing a thumbstick, even though doing so could be detrimental to your cause.

Despite that hiccup, DarkMaus's combat remains praiseworthy. You battle a variety of creatures, including crows, spiders, bulls and a multitude other mice. Each creature features its own AI routines, some with added nuances. Spiders, for instance, keep a safe distance from you. If you rush toward them, they scamper backwards to avoid harm. However, once you turn your back, they charge and bite. Even the different types of mice you battle utilize divergent strategies. Standard swordsmen circle you and remain defensive, taking only choice slashes. On the other hand, spearmen charge often and leave themselves open, taking huge risks in order to dish out considerable punishment.

All of the aforementioned qualities come together to form wisely-built gauntlets with careful planning on the developer's part. You might enter one room lined with bowmen and attempt to push past them. However, around the corner lie a spearman and a swordsman, who force you back into the previous chamber. Leading up to this encounter, you've also had to evade all manner of environmental hazards: thorns, wall-mounted flamethrowers, spikes and ballistae firing massive spears. Everything seeks to wear you down so you don't reach the next campfire, which serves as a recovery and respawn point similar to Dark Souls' bonfires. Everything seeks to frustrate and break you, and cause you to throw your controller out the window and delete your Steam account. You don't, though, because the game's difficulty rating offers an exhilarating experience that offsets its frustration factor.

DarkMaus (PC) image

DarkMaus's most impressive feat, though, is packing fulfilling and challenging content into a brief campaign. My own adventure only lasted about seven hours, and my character's final level was close to eighty. DarkMaus's leveling system and tightly built structures add weight to a light campaign, making the game feel substantial despite its short length.

As you can tell, DarkMaus receives my stamp of approval. It expertly reimagines Dark Souls' material as a miniature quest that's well worth taking. You'll find plenty of challenge, as well as the signature "risk vs. reward" system seen in so many Souls-likes. If you've blasted through From Software's library by now, as well as Salt & Sanctuary and Hollow Knight, then DarkMaus should be your next destination.

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (January 14, 2018)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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