The Darkmere, some sort of curse, has come over the land. Good thing the local king is a trusted hero! Well, it would be, if he hadn't grown old and fragile by now. So he hands his magic sword (with vampiric qualities, healing its wielder when it strikes an evil creature) and the responsibility over to his son Ebryn. Whose task it is now to defeat the evil dragon responsible for the mess.
When Ebryn arrives in the town, all seems to be lost already. Orcs and other creatures are roaming the streets. Corpses are rotting away at every street corner. The remaining population has given up all hope. So cooperation or even support cannot be counted on anymore.
Darkmere is structured in three fairly long levels: the town, the forest and finally the caves. Each level consists of a number of screens through which the player controls Ebryn's movements and which are shown in isometric perspective. The task at hand is fairly clear: travel to the caves where the source of the evil lies and vanquish it.
Only that there are a number of obstacles in the way. The town's gatekeeper will not let Ebryn pass unless he knows the right password. The only person willing to share that password wants something else in return, and that thing once again requires doing something else again and so on and so forth. That, and the abundance of locked doors for which the player finds keys scattered around, defines the core of the game, which is – in the truest sense of the word – paced by gatekeeping. More imaginative puzzles don't exist, but this part is definitely acceptable.
The interface does a good job mostly. Controlling the protagonist with the joystick directly, fights are also conducted in action mode, with three different moves being available. Searching each screen, on the other hand, can turn into a bit of a chore. This is done through menus, but there are so many sub- and sub-sub-menus that things become cumbersome. On the other hand, the saving function is quite interesting: instead of having specific save points, continues or free saving, this is done through specific magic potions. I.e. the player can save the game whenever he wants, but only a limited number of times.
The animations are very fluid and the graphics, in general, have aged very well. They, together with the short conversation snippets and written pieces of ambient information you find throughout the game, make for a good cliché sword & sorcery atmosphere. The high level of detail in the graphics require the viewpoint to be quite close to the action, however. This comes at the cost of each screen being fairly small, and each switch between two screens causes some annoying loading time when playing from floppy.
On top of that, the only possible complaint is really that the number of different enemies is rather limited. Encountering some varying sprites or – even better – differently behaving enemies could have spiced things up. So the only thing which changes between the levels is really the background graphics. Non-hostile interactions even disappear almost completely after the first one.
So basically, Darkmere is a game with an immediate appeal, but it has to be admitted that it begins at its high note. After leaving the town, it is still good, but doesn't offer anything new anymore – and the settings are not quite as attractive anymore as the dark alleys and street corners illuminated by flickering lanterns found at the beginning. So whether you will have the staying power to finish it or not may be put in question – but definitely give it a try!