STAFF REVIEW of Dark Arcana: The Carnival (Xbox One)


Thursday, April 6, 2017.
by Adam Dileva

Dark Arcana: The Carnival Box art Artifex Mundi started releasing their Hidden Object Games (HOG’s) on PC a number of years ago, and as of a few years ago, they also started to release their catalog of games on Xbox One. Normally HOG’s don’t translate well to console, so you don’t see many of them, but Artifex Mundi has somehow figured out how to make these types of games work with a controller, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Sometimes you just want a relaxing game for those nights when you want to chill out on the couch, and that’s exactly what has hooked me on these HOG’s. Generally not too difficult like other puzzlers, these games usually have you trying to find a specific list of items in a cluttered area and playing a handful of mini-games to progress further in the journey.

Dark Arcana: The Carnival is the newest Artifex Mundi release for console, yet is one of the oldest titles in their catalogue. The Carnival is a much spookier backdrop than I’m used to for a HOG, as it takes place in a twisted amusement park and has some wonderful visuals to accompany your journey. Of course there will be twists and turns, especially once you realize there’s an alternate dimension that can be traveled to through a mysterious mirror.

The Carnival opens with a mother and daughter visiting a seemingly normal amusement park, but in an unexpected turn of events the mother is kidnapped, leaving her daughter stranded, alone, and unsure where her mother was taken. I was totally expecting the child to be kidnapped like in most other stories, so having a slight twist to the trope was a welcome change.


You play as the female detective who is assigned the case. You set out to find where the mother has been taken to and reunite the family. The daughter is visibly upset and as you try to have a word with the park manager Jim, and he takes off running, locking the gate behind him. Obviously something is amiss and this is where your journey begins to solve the disappearance of the woman and what the park manager is really up to.

You eventually learn that the woman has been taken to another dimension, hidden away within mirrors, but this version of the world is very dark and twisted. This fact doesn’t stop you from getting to the truth of what happened. There’s more to the story, but with how short in length the game is, I’ll let you uncover the rest of what has happened, even if many plot points can be seen coming from a mile away.

Like other Artifex Mundi games, the backgrounds are wonderfully painted, seemingly by hand, and given that you’ll be travelling between the real world and an alternate dimension of the amusement park, you’ll see two very distinct versions of the same area. The colors are bright and varied, and even in the dark dimension, with its twisted version of every object, it’s beautiful to look at and has a ton of detail. Given that there’s no movement in the scenes for the most part, the beautiful artwork keeps your visual attention throughout.

The core of Dark Arcana is solving one of 3 different types of puzzles: HOG’s, collecting items, and a handful of mini-games. You’ll explore many different scenes, each with its own barriers preventing you from progressing further, which is where the puzzles come into play. Sometimes you’ll need to complete a mini-game to unlock a door, or collect a handful of different items from numerous scenes to find the solution you need. Any items that you need to collect and/or interact with will have some glowing sparkles on it to make it stand out, on normal mode anyways, as expert mode takes away this advantage as well as any reliance on the hint system.


Early in your adventure you’ll befriend a monkey who will become your best buddy in a few situations, as he’s able to reach items that you would have no hope of retrieving and return them back to you. There will be times where you might become confused, as you can’t figure out what item to use to solve your problem, so keep your primate companion in mind in these situations.

Like many of these types of games, you’ll return to each scene numerous times, usually with a new item in your inventory to help you progress where you were previously blocked. Throughout your adventure you’ll also have to find a collection of items like masks, gears, and other things before you can attempt to solve its related brainteaser. While many items will generally only be a few scenes away from one another, there are times where you’ll have to backtrack a half dozen areas to find the item(s) you need. Luckily you’re given a map that shows you how each area connects in case you get lost, though a fast travel system would have been ideal in some cases.

Given that the Carnival is one of Artifex Mundi’s earlier titles, I can tell how their games have progressed as I’ve played and reviewed their other newer titles in the past. The difficulty here is generally pretty flat, never terribly challenging and nowhere near as difficult as their newer games. I never had to skip any of the puzzles, which is a great inclusion for those that aren’t as skilled, nor use any hints, which will help you solve any puzzle you may be stuck on. These features allows any skill level able to complete the game yet has achievements for those that want a greater challenge, like solving a HOG without any misses, or completing the game without using any hints.

If you truly become stuck you can even completely skip puzzles, getting the game to automatically complete it for you, allowing you to progress without becoming frustrated. Like their other titles, there are also an alternative puzzles you can play if you simply don’t understand the initial one given to you, revolving around you matching cards until you clear a certain amount of powered-up cards. It’s nowhere near as challenging, but again, is a great alternative for those that need it.


The HOG’s are the showcase in these types of games, as you’re given a list of items to find in a cluttered scene. Sometimes you’ll need to combine items to create the one thing you need, like adding a candle to a candlestick, or polishing some shoes with a scrubber. Sure, you could simply spam the ‘A’ button while moving your cursor around the screen and complete them that way, but it defeats the whole purpose of these types of relaxing games.

As for the negatives, the voice acting stands out prominently, as it’s quite poor. I understand it’s one of their earlier games, but it’s quite a distraction and not believable in any way, even when the final plot twist is revealed and credits roll. The Carnival is quite easy in relation to their other HOG titles, even when played in expert mode, as I was able to easily finish it in a single sitting, including the bonus epilogue that explains events that take place after the main campaign. The other complaint is that it almost feels like they were cheating, given that you will essentially explore the same areas twice, in the real world and the alternate one.

Even with its flaws, and understanding it’s one of their older titles, I still enjoyed my time with Dark Arcana: The Carnival, even if it was a short adventure. I love these types of games for those nights I simply need to relax and not worry about shooting anyone or racing against my friends. You might scoff at HOG titles, but they are quite relaxing, and if you’re not proficient at puzzle games the difficulty here isn’t very high and it allows you many alternative ways to progress if you ever become stuck. While not Artifex Mundi’s best title to date, it’s still a fun adventure and a great way to get your feet wet with their catalogue in a long forgotten genre.




Overall: 7.2 / 10
Gameplay: 7.5 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 6.0 / 10

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