From 2010 to 2014 Richard Cobbett wrote Crapshoot, a column about bringing random obscure games back into the light. With Darkened Skye he dug up an infamous story of revolution, rebellion, and sticking it to the man. Oh, not this rubbish fantasy game. We're talking about its development...
Advertising in games is nothing particularly new, whether it's a dedicated license like Cool Spot or M.C. Kids, or simple product placement, like Space Quest V's callouts to US Sprint, Robocod's levels made of Penguin bars or Zool's obsession with Chupa-Chups.
Darkened Skye wasn't the first. It won't be the last. It is however unquestionably the sneakiest. There isn't so much as an extra logo on the box to warn you, nor anything in the blurb that hints at the truth behind this forgotten action adventure. It's about 10 minutes into the story before the game finally admits that the mysterious 'orange artifact' that gives less-than-humble shepherd girl Skye her magic powers and looks amusingly like a Skittle... actually is a Skittle. Or rather, a Skittles™.
Congratulations, you've bought an advert! THERE WILL BE NO REFUNDS!
Except there's a twist. As much as Darkened Skye only exists to flog fruit-flavoured candy, it quickly becomes obvious that its creators had complete contempt for actually doing so. Its producer even went on the record to say that her response to being ordered to create a Skittles game was, in about as many words, "You can fire me now, or not force me to do this," followed by heading out to get drunk and toast the end of her career. Even after backing down and agreeing to take it on, the mission immediately became one of subversion rather than salesmanship, banking on M&M/Mars' gaming inexperience. The exact quote from the above interview: "How can I get Skittles in the game without having… Skittles in the game?"
The result is one of the most sarcastic, fourth-wall breaking, off-message games you'll ever find, where the writers clearly decided that if they had to sell their souls, at the very least they were going to have some fun. Try to walk into a dark cave near the start, and Skye says, "Yeah, I want to show up in the credits as Third Dead Teenager." Inside, she and partner Draak mock a coded password for being indecipherable due to being written... backwards! At a nearby door, we get this exchange:
DRAAK: "We can't do this puzzle 'til later."
SKYE: "How do you know?"
DRAAK: "I read the script. Uh. I mean, I had a sacred vision!"
The snarking is constant, no matter how much the plot and other characters try to pretend there's a serious core to the game, and nothing is spared Skye and Draak's sarcastic scorn.
Easily the best moment, and the one that defines the whole game, is in the second world, where Skye has to retrieve a green Skittles from the belly of a sea monster. She leaps in to get it, is spat back out, and promptly turns to the camera to announce: "A Skittles™! Mysteriously unaffected by centuries of digestive activity! See, Marketing didn't want us to show a Skittles™ all narfed up from stomach juices, so they decided... I'll shut up."
The irony of all this is that while the game itself is absolutely dreadful, failing in nearly every way it's possible for a third-person game to fail while still looking reasonably pretty (for its time), it actually succeeds at being one of the funniest action games around. It's giving itself the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment while you play, whether it's pointing out that fishing has no place in a supposed action adventure, Skye getting cross at the fact that she's a "warrior hero adventurer goddess who CAN'T SWIM", or Draak referencing the fact that while everyone hates comic relief sidekicks like him, at least he amuses himself. If it was just a little bit better, it'd be worth checking out just for that.
Unfortunately, with a litany of crimes ranging from boring levels to monsters appearing out of nowhere, an obsession with bug enemies that can hit you from the other side of the moon, and a standard attack that may as well be actually throwing handfuls of Skittles at enemies instead of firing coloured beams of magic rainbow energy, it's a real hair-puller of a game. That sense of humour can't save it.
Hours of frustration is simply too high a price to pay in the name of seeing videogame writers finally snap. Even so, it's hard not to look back on Darkened Skye a little fondly, when the memories of anger, reloading and being force-fed Skittles have finally passed. At the very least, its creators' torture ended up being pretty amusing.
PC Gamer would like to make it clear that no promotional consideration was provided for this article about a 2002 game that nobody cared about back then either. Want to see another advergame that people remember a bit more warmly? Check out Evan's write-up of Chex Quest , the cereal killer simulator.