Updated: Dark Raider Review

Version 1.1 of Dark Raider addresses one of the biggest concerns we had in our initial review–the aiming controls. Now the game offers a “dual stick” control scheme, which lets you move and shoot in two different directions. This makes a significant difference in the way Dark Raider plays, because now you have a fighting chance against the endless creatures that attack you. Plus, Dark Raider has undergone a dramatic price cut to $.99 for a limited time, which is a price point we think the developer would be smart to keep.

Unfortunately, swarms of enemies still spawn from invincible generators, and this version still contains no mid-level checkpoints. Version 1.1 of Dark Raider is slightly less frustrating because of the new controls, but it has a way to go before it becomes enjoyable instead of merely tolerable. We’ve bumped Dark Raider’s score up to a 2, but it’s not 3-worthy quite yet.

On iTunes, the product description of Dark Raider promises a new game for fans of Zelda and Gauntlet that costs $7.99. We’d gladly pay that much for a worthy successor to those classic top-down action/adventure games. But while superficial elements of these older games can be found in Dark Raider, the number of ways it constantly punishes players does not make it a classic. This overpriced game is nearly unplayable due to its awful controls, aggravating enemies and lack of a sensible checkpoint system.

Dark Raider is an action game consisting of 64 dungeons full of puzzles and monsters. Your Indiana Jones-like character starts in the Valley of the Gods, a grassy mission select area where you can choose one of eight worlds to explore, including a castle, coliseum and labyrinth. After locating the exit in each world, you’ll be able to play it again with a few added obstacles up to eight times.

It’s a promising setup, but major problems soon arise. The movement and aiming controls are keyed to a circle on the side of the screen, and they range from a useless crawl to a spastic lurch. This often leads to jerky movement and an inability to target enemies precisely.

Like in Gauntlet, enemies in Dark Raider — mostly snakes, bats, and bugs — spawn from generators scattered throughout each level. Unlike Gauntlet, however, these generators can’t be destroyed, meaning that you’ll constantly be overwhelmed by hard-to-hit pests.

Plus, if you die mid-mission due to the horrible controls or by becoming snagged on a wall and devoured by vermin, you’ll find yourself all the way back at the level select screen. This is a needless frustration, which could have easily been fixed by a checkpoint system that doesn’t force you to replay early parts of the level.

These problems ruin nearly all other aspects of the game. For example, Dark Raider contains an interesting variety of weapons, but few of the guns are truly useful because of the controls. Only the rocket launcher and grenades, which both have a very wide blast area, can compensate for a lack of precise aiming.

Dark Raider has a few quality concepts hidden beneath the massive failures. Each of the worlds contains a different theme, and the original music is quite good for this independently developed game. If we could enjoy Dark Raider without the constant threat of cheap death and the agony of having to restart from the beginning, these worlds might be worth spending several hours exploring. But without an update to address these problems, we can’t recommend Dark Raider.

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