Developer / Publisher – Studio FreshDoh! / Devsisters Corp
Price – US $24.99 / CAN 34.99 / EU €24.99 / UK £19.99
Release Date – November 30th, 2023
Input – 2 x Motion Controllers
Play Area – Seated, Standing, Roomscale
Store Links – Meta
Reviewed on – Quest 3
Alright, to my recollection I have never heard of the Cookierun franchise as it’s been largely a free-to-play collection of mobile games covering a few different genres dating all the way back to 2009. While those mobile games don’t look like anything to intriguing for myself, this VR title does as it’s a fully realized action-adventure game with some light RPG elements and puzzling thrown in for good fun. Without spoiling too much, you as Gingerbrave, have woken up in an oven and must escape not just that but the house you find yourself in, aiding the various beings you find along the way and unravelling a rather epic story.
Like most games, the opening stage acts as your intro to the story and controls, having you escape that oven by walking, climbing ladders & attacking some stationary spores with your candy cane. While you can free roam any of the stages, your max walking speed is isn’t very fast and the smooth turn option, even set to max, is brutally slow forcing me to turn IRL so I didn’t feel like I was a walking tank. Climbing is also a little too finicky and my hands often got caught on geometry or would randomly lose grip causing some frustrations. Most of the stages are relatively linear and come in smaller sizes like skinny bookshelves to larger areas like a laboratory with each have some hidden sections and items to find, adding a nice layer of exploration for those looking to find everything the game offers. In fact, hidden in every stage are some very simple stone puzzles that require you to spin a block to complete a carving or other areas that require various rescued lifeforms to unblock them. Treasure chests are littered everywhere with some simply needing to be opened to grab the loot while others require keys that can be found throughout the game. Those lifeforms will also be found in various stages, trapped in a glass container that contains a mini world from which they need to be rescued. These worlds have those piranha plant-like spores and other monsters that need to be killed off before rescuing said creature and defeating a large boss that’s preventing your exit. Once you rescue the little guy, their abilities can be used at specific markers to find collectibles or snag some more loot.
Standing in your way are various minions that serve the Darkest Lord and can be dispatched using the various melee and slingshot weapons you can find or buy though the combat leaves much to be desired. There’s actually some depth to the combat as your strikes will cause enemies to react to your blows and you can block projectile attacks with your melee weapon. When enemies get low in health, a line appears before them indicating which direction to swing for maximum damage adding a layer of strategy to the combat that is all but rendered moot by the fact that it just devolves into a waggle fest. With many blow flinching foes, the faster you attack the more damage you’ll deal throwing any sort of strategy out of the way in favor of just beating the enemies to the punch. Some of the larger baddies can inflict some heavy damage which is where your slingshot comes into play and that works well enough I suppose, but once I learned to craft magical weapons, I only ever used my slingshot on flying enemies that were out of range of my sword. The combat is the most disappointing aspect of this and while it’s not awful, once I was just exploiting enemies and not actually battling them, fighting became mundane and got in the way of the rest of the game.
Those magical weapons can be made in the Gnome village, which acts as your hub area between stages. It’s here where you can purchase items, ammo and weapons for your journey, all of which are stored in a clunky backpack. All the loot you collect can be spent or used here and once I made my 1st magical sword, one that uses lightning, the combat fell apart as that magic seemed to stun enemies meaning they would never get an attack out once I started swinging. Your backpack can be accessed by pulling at the right side of your chest while your quest book is stored on your left. There are multiple slots for the types of stuff you’ll find (ranged weapons, melee weapons, Quest items and other items) and once any particular section is full, you can’t drop anything else in there until you free up a slot, which can be a pain in the butt as I found myself dumping healing items in favor of keys to open chests on many occasions. That almost doesn’t matter though as I rarely took much damage which is good thing as the healing meat jelly (essentially a drumstick) would almost never heal me as I tried to bring it to my mouth, practically shoving my controller into my face in the hopes the game registering what I was trying to do. Eventually I got it to work, but it seemed completely random when it did, so something here needs to be fixed. Like I said though, I rarely took damage, which is indicated on a cartoonish smart watch on your left wrist which might also direct you to your next goal.
I know I’ve complained a bit up to this point, and while I will stand behind my issues, there’s still a much higher level of VR game here then I expected. I think it’s the quality of the world design, the charm of the characters and story along with the undeniable fact that despite my issues, it’s clear that efforts were made that make this more than your average VR title thanks to a fair bit of VR interactions and full use of the medium. There are moments in the game when the controls change up and you may have to control Gingerbrave from a 3rd person point of view while enemies launch fireballs his way or during a few sections that may require you to swing your controllers in a specific direction to help your hero swing in place or pull at something he’s grasping like a mine cart pump. Add on a few simple puzzles and you get a game that despite only being the 1st chapter feels quite in-depth despite the 3-hour playtime. You can continue playing after the credits roll and extend that play time and take on a few side quests for some extra rewards which mostly involve revisiting areas of the house and dispatching bad guys.
I love when VR games utilize scale in their world building and this shines in that department thanks to the simple fact that you are a Gingerbread cookie in a large house that mixes cartoon and fantasy. The attention to detail is fairly high here and the draw distance is impressive making some of these rooms look incredibly massive. The narrative of evil and good cookies is bizarre for sure, but it allows for a magical mini world where all these little beings have found ways to interact with it and move around via teleportation crystals, tunnels & elevators. Some puzzles will unlock new paths allowing you to continue your quests throughout the Witches home. The different NPC’s you stumble across all look great and animate wonderfully, really bringing life to what is an already lively world and supplying a lot of additional character.
The impressive presentation is somewhat hampered by the audio as many environmental and NPC noises appear to be missing or glitched out, causing some awkward moments of silence when it’s clear there should be some noises to take in. Opposite of that is a soundtrack that’s fits the tones of whatever is happening in that moment. While the stakes may be high, The Darkest Night never takes itself to seriously and is rife with some light humor that largely lands thanks to the whacky characters you meet throughout the 3-hour story. Spatial audio is used though this is a little more hit and miss as it can be hard to tell where enemies are as their steps can be quite loud and if they are above or me, I couldn’t tell. Outside of that though is a game that surprised me with just how much care and quality has gone into the world design, it just needs a little TLC here and there.
I’m not going to say this is a great game, it’s not, but it has some solid bones and is a surprising and addictive adventure despite the lacklustre combat and other minor shortcomings. It might be a little on the kiddie side when it comes to any individual aspect of the game, but the overall package is a surprisingly solid one. It is a little unfortunate than that it took me around 3 hours to get through the main story making the asking price on this a tough pill to swallow, even with the additional post game side quests. With the 2nd and 3rd chapters coming next summer and winter for “less than half the cost of Chapter 1” it might be in your best interest to wait until you pick this up on sale or perhaps in a complete bundle.
The publisher provided a press code for this title and, regardless of this review, we thank them for that!