Bestowing a name like Deep Chalk on your game is not a frivolous undertaking. "Deep" suggests layers upon layers of meaning, complex undercurrents carrying bits of knowledge that are almost as satisfying to examine as the currents themselves. Deep Blue. Deep Purple. Deep Dish Pizza.
On the other hand, "chalk" doesn't bring much to the table. Besides teaching tool, sidewalk decorator, and athletic friction reducer, we don't really have that much use for chalk. Rarely is it considered a plus for something to be described as "chalky".
You can begin to see the clash of ideas that are suggested by the juxtaposition of these two words. Likewise, the game itself encompasses a dual nature, though perhaps not by game author Zack Livestone's design. On the deep side of things, we find a charming and interactive point-and-click, in which you clear the way for a powerful crystal to escape its confines, presumably to reach a higher plane of crystallinity. Certain game elements, rather than activating when you click, respond to the very touch of a cursor; others require more of a karate chop. Otherworldly music sampled from Boards of Canada permeates the black-and-white Samorostian landscapes. No guidance is offered; it is up to the player to figure out what can and what must be done.
Ah, but now we come to the chalk. Yes, I suppose you could say that the white line-objects on the black background suggest chalkboard imagery, the mouse-over interactions reflect the transitive nature of chalkboard doodles and so on. Fine. But there's also a certain dryness to the game that seems to stem from a lack of empathy with the crystal. We don't understand why it's so determined to get wherever it is trekking towards. Similarly, the puzzles also feel dis-connective, making Deep Chalk seem at times more like a find-the-hotspot game.
So, while on the surface Deep Chalk may appear to be a worthy contemporary of Samorost, it doesn't quite reach that level in the end. Not that I'm trying to undersell it — the atmosphere is captured fantastically, augmented by the complex and shadowy visuals. To be fair, the three short levels are only the first installment of the game, so Deep Chalk may yet reach its potential. Nonetheless, they are certainly worthy of a play in their current form, and we'll be looking forward to further installments from Zack.
Play the entire Deep Chalk series...