DarkPark Games – Dear Santa [Review]

🎡 I’m dreaming of a dark Christmas 🎡

Location:  at home

Date Played: July 14, 2021

Team size: we recommend 2-3

Duration: 1-2 hours

Price: not currently available

REA Reaction

Dear Santa was released almost a year ago for the 2020 holiday season. While the game is no longer available for purchase, we decided to put out our review for posterity.

DarkPark Games’ products always have a darkness about them; it’s in the name. Dear Santa may be their most interesting creation in that it explores familial darkness. There are lots of bad things that can happen to a family, and they didn’t hold back.

An assortment of items and letters from Dear Santa Chapter 1, including a child's drawing of his family.

Whether you enjoyed Dear Santa or not, it was a generally well-designed and well-crafted game.

We enjoyed experiencing this story, and can also easily imagine someone hating it. It was brilliantly manipulative, and went down some roads that required a certain bravery for a game designer to explore.

I’m sorry we took too long to play this one, as it is no longer available for purchase, but I eagerly await the next installment from DarkPark Games. No one is making games like theirs.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • A compelling story
  • Solid puzzle design
  • The aesthetic is cleverly effective
  • It’s a unique product

Story

We had received a collection of letters to Santa from 8-year-old Julian. This year, he didn’t want presents; he just wanted his mommy back.

We had to comb through what had been sent to learn the tragic story of his family, and see if there was anything we could do to help.

White box for Dear Santa depicts a child's artwork of Santa, addressed to the North Pole.

Setup

Following in the footsteps of previous DarkPark Games, Dear Santa arrived at our doorstep in a box with content broken up into 3 sequential chapters.

We worked with the physical components and a website to solve our way through the story.

Also in keeping with previous DarkPark Games, the quality of the components was high, and did a lot to pull us into the game’s world.

3 chapter envelopes for Dear Santa. The typography looks regal and Christmas-y, with a child's cursive reading, "Don't open until I say so."

Gameplay

Dark Park Games’ Dear Santa was a standard play-at-home escape game with a moderate level of difficulty and a lot of character-building.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, and puzzling.

Analysis

βž• DarkPark Games’ narrative and character building were impressive. Furthermore, they were integrated into the experience. By solving the puzzles, we came to understand the characters, their relationships to one another, their motivations, and their story.

βž• The strongest puzzles were justified by the narrative. It made sense for these puzzles to exist, obscuring information. By solving these puzzles we gained more insight into the characters and their story.

βž• The voicing of the child protagonist was exceptional. He was a child investigator who knew something was off, but couldn’t quite piece it all together properly. He was a relatable character.

βž• Dear Santa included 3 distinct styles of puzzles, each created by different characters for different purposes.

βž•/βž– The solutions felt unbalanced. Sometimes they were meaningful within the context of the story and other times they were random number sequences. We greatly preferred the solutions that carried meaning.

βž– When we typed in the password fields, we couldn’t see what we’d typed. Because these passwords were gating gameplay, but not for security, it would improve the player experience to be able to visibly catch typos.

βž• DarkPark Games used paper components creatively. These elements looked and felt good.

❓ The ending was… strange. This game was emotionally manipulative. As we played, we connected with the characters. Thus the ending was jarring. We expect responses to it to vary.

Tips For Players

  • Space Requirements: a small table
  • Required Gear: an internet connected device, pen and paper
  • You need to be able to read cursive.

DarkPark Games’ Dear Santa is no longer available. Check out their other games and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: DarkPark Games provided a sample for review.

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