Android, iOS, PC, Switch
Publisher Raw Fury Developer Long Hat House Format iOS, PC, PS4, Switch (tested), Xbox One
Release Out now
This is, conceptually at least, the modern indie game at its worst: Game X meets Game Y, with a twist. Dandara borrows its gear-gated 2D structure from
the Castlevania and Metroid games of yore. It overlays Dark Souls’ progression and checkpointing system, sparsely dotting the map with campsites at which your health, abilities and restorative items are recharged. Doing so respawns all the enemies you’ve dispatched – and you’ll never guess, but when you die you drop your accrued currency on your corpse, and have one life to get it back. And the twist? The titular heroine can’t run, or jump; she can only zip between two fixed points, the analogue stick lining up her destination, and a button press pinging her over there at speed.
As you might expect, it’s the latter element that elevates Dandara from being a run-of-the-mill hybrid of established game styles to, well, a Blink-of-the-mill one. That you can only move between points of safe ground within a certain range gives the developers a degree of creative licence with Dandara’s level design; a low wall that even a toddler could mantle over can be, in effect, a cliff when you have no means of getting past it. It’s an effective idea, and offers a novel way to traverse a world of otherwise familiar design. Early on, it elevates While the pixel-art biomes can be beautiful, the map certainly isn’t. It’s an absolute stinker, made even harder to read by a screen that often rotates when you enter a room, leaving you unsure which door you came in through combat, too: the rank-and-file enemies would, in any other game, pose no threat, but the need to manage space, movement and direct your gunfire means that even easy battles can make for complex puzzles to solve.
Sadly things rather fall apart as the difficulty ramps up. Dandara is playable with touch or traditional controls, and to compensate for the latter’s relative lack of speedy precision, the game gives you a wide margin of error, interpreting (or trying to) your intent and automatically picking the nearest available platform. When things get hectic and you’re trying to manage your own movement between landing points that only seem to get smaller, something will have to give and you’ll play by instinct – an instinct that can be misinterpreted, and prove fatal. It’s especially irksome during boss battles, when the level around you starts to warp and shift and you’ve suddenly got no idea where to look. With touch controls, meanwhile, what you gain in speed is lost to the need to briefly occlude the action with your own hand.
It’s during such moments that Dandara undermines its own inspirations, and the promising gentle thrill of its central idea. When you respawn miles away after a death in a Souls game, you feel a certain resolve to recoup your earnings. Here, you’ll ask if it’s really worth the bother. Miyazaki, Sakamoto and Igarashi, you suspect, would be resolutely unimpressed.