Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, iOS, Android
Developer: Long Hat House
Publisher: Raw Fury
Release: 6th February 2018
Dandara is probably one of the unique entries in the indie Metroidvania genre, featuring a heroine not able to run or jump, solely relying on dashing from one wall to the other. Unfortunately new mechanics not always help a game to surpass its competitors.
Unsurprisingly, Dandara isn´t strong on the story-side of things. Set in an interesting sounding world governed by salt with some bad guys threatening its existence but that´s pretty much it. So the heroine, Dandara, sets out to fight those villains, in order to save the world.
As previously said, it´s not possible to run or jump in this game, the only form of movement is to dash from one white spot to the other. To do so, the left Joystick is used to move an arrow which automatically locks itself to the nearest possible surface, by pressing A Dandara jumps to the selected one. Sounds a bit complicated and hard to implement for a genre relying on fast reactions and it actually is. Especially early on, getting used to the controls and restrictions is the biggest challenge of all. Most of the time I instinctively tried to run away, rather than jumping.
Still, even after getting used to the movement, controlling Dandara never feels quite on-point. Be it because of the tiny Joysticks of the Joy-cons, making precise reactions even more difficult or the fact every single jump needs at least a few seconds of preparation. Playing Dandara never feels very fast, rather requiring a slow, well thought out tactic.
Nonetheless, at occasional peak moments of its level design, with moving blocks and well-timed viewing angle shifts, it can feel really great, as it enables for some neat camera experiments. Sadly, such thought out passages are rare compared to the overall recycling of the same walls and mechanisms, seemingly repeating themselves most of the time. After the 8-10 hours playthrough, I remember only a very little handful of moments that managed to truly convince me of this unique gameplay. The rest of the times, I found it interesting but never able to like it more than any traditional system.
A huge part of my disappointment is also caused by the quite contrary ability design. As already said, playing Dandara can get quite messy, hence the game speed tends to become rather slow. Yet, nearly all enemies are fast, forcing you to fight them while trying to keep distance, resulting in often uncontrolled jumps. To top it off, the main shooting ability is a shotgun like move, requiring Dandara to stand still for 1-2 seconds, to charge it, using the shield cancels it too. Combat simply feels like a clash between two completely different systems.
The saving system is something of a mixed bag as well. Comparable to the Souls series, it´s only possible to save at camps and if Dandara dies, she respawns at the previous camp. At the same time, every bit of salt, the currency for upgrades and alike, is left behind in form of a spirit, waiting to be collected. While the added tension of having to survive until the next camp combined with the added challenge works really well, it can also lead to frustration when the movement and combat mechanics work against each other again, resulting in needless deaths.
Luckily the visuals are the only thing without any downsides, portraying an often interesting art direction through great pixel art. From the hugely deformed arms and legs of certain citizens, floating heads or the simple world full of salty influences. Of course, the overall theme of salt could be more apparent, instead of little white spaces on the walls but I really dig Dandara´s style. The soundtrack can add some additional atmosphere to Long Hat House´s already bizarre world. The fact nothing about the Switch version, except the implementation of mediocre touch controls, is out of the ordinary compared to the overall great ports we´ve seen so far is also great.
Everything about Dandara is built around its unique movement, for better or worse. On the one hand, it´s a unique concept and works surprisingly great at times, way better than I ever expected. On the other hand, there are so many tiny flaws holding it back way too often. It´s still a fun game with lots of enjoyment to be had but definitely not something I see me coming back for more than one or two playthroughs.
[A Review Code was provided by Raw Fury]