In the year 198x the PlayChoice-10 was the first arcade cabinet to feature two interactive screens. Capcom soon began developing a game to make use of this advanced technology. This groundbreaking title was called Dark Void. Unfortunately, the PlayChoice-10 was discontinued and the project was cancelled. In the year 20xx, Capcom found the project buried deep in its vault. It's concept inspired a new adventure of the same name. But… The original game… Locked away for decades… Is now back from the void.

As Capcom's release indicates, this elusive lost title is now back from the dusty recesses of obscurity and has landed on the Nintendo DSi, the PC, and -- that's right -- the iPhone, as Dark Void Zero [App Store]. The tale is an absolute retro gamer's dream!

Well…retro gamer's dream or no, it is a tale -- and a tall one at that... Not quite the reborn rendition of a legendary classic, Dark Void Zero started out (here in the modern day) as a sort of joke within Capcom. The decision was later made to turn the concept into an actual retro-styled, side-scrolling platform game with a bit of a tongue-in-cheek backstory to go along with. A fun little promotion of the much larger Dark Void title. The initial DSi version landed in January and the iPhone release hit the App Store earlier this week.

And, despite its lighthearted beginnings, Dark Void Zero is actually great retro platformer fun.

It all goes down something like this: For years, an evil race of aliens known as Watchers have coveted Earth, our home. The only thing that has stood in the way of a full invasion all these years is the unstable nature of the portals that exist between our world and theirs. Lamentably, the aliens were finally able to create a stable portal, Portal X, through which they can lay siege to our world. A group of humans were chosen to take on the Watchers, Nikola Tesla among them. [You read that right] Tesla has used his inventions to enable these human warriors to survive in the Void between our worlds. You, the Void-born test pilot Rusty, have been chosen for the daunting task of closing Portal X and saving humankind.

Gameplay involves running about the three available levels, searching for lost journals, keycards, and the like in an effort to get from area to area and, ultimately, shut Portal X down. Plenty of armed enemies stand in your way and the terrain can be rough at times. Tesla's five experimental weapons and prototype rocket pack can help you along the way.

The game features an 8-bit graphic style, along with a chiptunes soundtrack composed by Bear McCreary (known for the Battlestar Galactica score). It's all done very well and it really does feel like an NES platformer. It's something like a cross between Mega Man and Metroid. It plays very well and the touch controls (virtual stick and onscreen buttons), which Capcom claims have been carefully refined, really do seem to be one of the best examples of such controls in an iPhone game. In my experience, they work just fine.

With but three levels in all, Dark Void Zero is not a particularly lengthy game, but replay variation is helped by all levels being unlocked from the start and a God Mode thrown in for good measure. Thanks to OpenFeint integration, leaderboards and achievement tracking is solidly in place. (It was probably a real task to work that into the 25 year old codebase.) My only real complaint about the game is the fact that the blocky, 8-bit pixels aren't quite uniformly scaled -- the renderer is clearly scaling up the display to the iPhone's full screen, the size of which is not a clean multiple of the source bitmap. It's not a huge issue, though.

See Capcom's trailer for the DSi version of the game, which is very similar to the iPhone version, only the level map display is accessible through the pause screen on the iPhone (where it's shown on the upper screen of the DSi).

I agree that there's much about the story of this game that would make it seem as if it's something of a "light" title or not a "real" game, in and of itself. I can assure you that's definitely not the case, and our forum readers echo that sentiment. Some critics are even calling Dark Void Zero a stronger title than its modern console namesake. Any platformer fan -- retro or no -- might just find this one worth some space on their home screen.

App Store Link: Dark Void Zero, $2.99

TouchArcade Rating

  • Brandon

    I love retro
    But sadly This genre is not my cup of tea (I suck...)

  • James

    I was going to buy this, but the pixel art in those screenshots is really messed up. Mis-scaled pixel art is like a slap in the face to fans of retro-games.

  • ra88it

    Your subtitle - The Fun Retro Remake That Isn't - is going to mislead some readers.

    Until I read the article, I assumed you meant that the game isn't *fun*.

    • Aerospeed

      Yeah, came to the comments to say the same thing.

    • Mike

      Me too!

    • Jonathan Ponikvar

      Yeah, ditto. I thought this was going to be a negative review of the game, which shocked me because the DSi version is so far one of my favorite downloads to hit that system. Glad to see it got a good review, but yes, it should be reworded a bit; people skimming the RSS feeds might misread the title without bothering to read further.

  • chris

    bought it yesterday. best purchase i have made in a while. makes me feel 8 years old. loving it.

  • 1337brian

    It's all about disclosure... R u ready? 😉

  • Jim

    This game could benefit from the "drop anywhere" D-pad (as we have seen with EDGE and C64.) The character spends a lot of time at the bottom of the screen where my thumbs are.

  • Slothy

    I've been waiting for this one for awhile! Was beginning to think the iPhone port was cancelled, and was gonna get it for ds, but it's here 🙂

  • E

    This review was a little vague for me. If the technical execution is a bit flawed, how does the game fair as far as fun goes? I think I'll wait for a sale or a lite version on this.

  • pretty sweet

    not a huge platformer fan but this game is good fun. Love the intro screen where you're asked to "blow the dust off the cartridge"

  • Shibuya_109

    I picked this up and to my surprise, it's actually really good. It plays surprisingly well with one of the best virtual d-pads I've used on the iPhone.

    But the visuals are a mess. Obviously they are intentionally 8-bit, but they're also obviously designed for a Nintendo DS screen. Upscaled, crudely, to the iPhone, they just look really ugly and scruffy. Scrolling is half DS speed, at 30fps (at best) on my iPhone 3G.

    Nice music though.

  • Kite111

    This is one of the best iPhone games I've ever played. I love it and would recommend it to anyone.